Insanity Begins Where Truth Evaporates

In just the past week, I’ve been bombarded with so many outrageous claims and patently made-up fantasies that I’m somewhere between headache and nausea.

Did you know that illegal aliens actually commit crimes at a lower rate than other residents—overlooking the fact that illegal entry is itself a crime, I mean?  Of course, being illegal, many of this group don’t call the cops when they’re robbed, raped, or mugged in the barrio… but I’m sure that whatever study the professor was quoting to Tucker Carlson took this into account.  Right?

High rates of Ruthenium 106 have been detected in the southern Urals… but, hey, Russia isn’t engaged any longer in the covert weaponizing of nuclear materials, and Jared Kushner’s chat with a Russian lobbyist remains a far greater threat to our security than Hillary’s Uranium One deal.  Anyway, who’s to say that Greenpeace Russia isn’t lying as part of a Trump pay-off?  Right?

Today I saw a video claiming that Native Americans have observed Thanksgiving as a day of mourning for centuries, and that the actual date marks the occasion of a massacre wrought by the Pilgrims upon their swart, dark-haired, fatally naive hosts.  The narrator was a Native-looking young lass who truly seemed to be very distressed.  Why would she lie?

All week I’ve been reading about our “greatest president”.  No, not Barack Obama—the other one: Abraham Lincoln.  He promised not to free the slaves as a candidate, his proclamation freed them only in the South and not in Unionist border states, he freed them then only to find more cannon fodder for his unpopular war, he had to siphon off precious troops to suppress draft resistance in states like New York, he smashed presses and imprisoned editors when newspapers in far-from-the-front Ohio and Indiana criticized his policies… but these are all just charges assembled by Southern apologists.  I have it on the high authority of Glenn Beck, the official historian of Planet Earth.

A professional sportswriter penned something that crossed my bow yesterday.  It argued that we might as well usher all the Steroid Boys into the Hall of Fame and waive the character criterion, because the Hall’s prior occupants are a bunch of bastards.  Take Tris Speaker, who wouldn’t attend teammate Ray Chapman’s funeral because Ray was Catholic.  Naturally, the argument made in Charles Alexander’s painstaking biography that Chapman was born Protestant and that, in any case, he selected Speaker to be best man at his wedding reeks of bias.  I’m sure the no-name who has wearied of the Hall’s prissy “character” clause must have it right.

A certain relative at our Thanksgiving gathering launched a verbal tirade because my son beat her at chess.  She insisted that knights couldn’t leap over other pieces when moved—citing an Internet source which actually undermined her position… but that was just our interpretation of the passage.  And the Internet is always right, especially when it’s vague.

From the cosmic to the national to the trivial, I find myself wading through hastily stitched “facts” at every turn.  What’s happening?  Are we all losing our minds?  Am I, perhaps, a psycho for thinking that the sun sets in the west?

No, it seems to me, rather, that we’re falling into a habit of rewriting the rules (sometimes literally) to whatever game we’re playing so that we personally come out ahead.  And because I once thought that Putin could be trusted, and that Glenn Beck could be trusted, and that institutional or professional research could be trusted, I don’t think I’m the lunatic in this asylum.  Why not?  Because I’m capable of admitting error and changing my mind.

Here’s an exercise I recommend: think of three positions that you’ve had to surrender over the past year because the facts just didn’t support them.  Can you do it?

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My Charitable Org Signs Off

(Below is the approximate text of the notice that I intend to send out for the final edition of an online journal that began seventeen years ago.)

The final issue of Praesidium has now been published. After seventeen years of struggle, the journal has failed, and more generally my vision for the Center for Literate Values has evaporated into pixie dust. The reasons for the collapse are detailed in my opening article for 17.4, and many have to do with my personal ineptitude as a Webmaster; but the ultimate and decisive reason is that our society is significantly, perhaps terminally post-literate, and that no amount of expertise could have salvaged the project. As I view the contemporary landscape, I see staggering evidence of a people that has taken progressive leave of reality.

Item: The Commanders in Chief who presided over the first sixteen years of the new millennium (almost precisely overlapping the lifespan of the Center) did nothing whatever to secure the nation’s power grid, thus neglecting their primary constitutional duty as they went merrily courting new venues of patronage and popularity. Their gross incompetence (and, in my mind, criminal negligence) is surely a prime reason why we cannot face down North Korea, any one of whose satellites drifting over our air space could be the platform for launching an Electro-Magnetic Pulse that would leave as many as ninety percent of us dead within a year.

Item: In the face of such crisis, our elected representatives continue to escalate our levels of debt to the point that national suicide of an economic variety is virtually inevitable.

Item: In the face of these accumulating crises, the base of one major party nominated a wooden sociopath to run for the nation’s highest office—a person constantly forced to imitate the reactions of her trusted entourage in the absence of any natural human affections and whose tone-deafness to the anguish and danger incurred by her fellows is directly implicated in the deaths of some under her authority. Meanwhile, the base of the other major party attempted to out-under-perform this selection by elevating a man who never reads and whose vocabulary consists only of hyperbolic clichés, his lifetime of exploiting legal loopholes and greasing the pumps of local political machines taken—incredibly—as proof of his “outsider” bona fides. As one after another of his bombastic promises crumples under the pressures of hard fact, we are now treated to the unsavory spectacle of these same boosters trying to fashion their Stump King into Charlemagne with feats of imagination reminiscent of children shaping castles out of clouds.

Item: Young people populating supposed institutions of higher learning are expensively protesting the free speech of those who might make them rethink their rigid programming, noisily insisting that they receive the fetal protections which they scorn to extend to genuine fetuses, and aggressively insulting everyone in whose casual utterances they can ferret out the unintended tinder of a faint slight.

Item: Descendants of slaves (but which of us is not one such, if only we knew our entire pre-history?) are defacing public property that may or may not commemorate men who actually owned slaves a century and a half ago, all on behalf of a political ideology that aspires to mire them—and the rest of us—in cradle-to-grave dependency.

Item: Among college students, probably a ninety percent majority (in my personal experience) is convinced to a pitch of quasi-cultic fervor that manmade climate change imminently threatens the survival of terrestrial life. An essential tenet of the cult is that only big government can save us, this despite the distinct possibility that the world’s most affluent governing elites have been playing at the manipulation of global weather systems for strategic purposes since the late twentieth century—a highly risky set of exercises about which our young bright things know absolutely nothing, but which might in fact be responsible for major damage to the natural weather cycle.

Item: University programs in the liberal arts continue at an accelerating rate to ascribe all the miseries implicit in the human condition to a) maleness and b) white racism. We have surpassed the kindergartner’s “Billy made me do it” defense, inasmuch as the charges now grow savagely vindictive and their consequences increasingly punitive. The Western literary canon, along the way, has become hopelessly shattered and scattered, its contents lost to the next generation and the entire spiritual discipline of speculating within reasonably objective boundaries forgotten for the duration.

Item: Meanwhile, the Christian Church (including all of its denominations) has likewise slipped its moorings and gone adrift. The notion of tolerance was once understood as an acknowledgment that we are all impeded from realizing our identity in God by subjugation to various circumstantial factors: wealth, praise, fleshly pleasures, fear of physical pain or privation, and all the rest. Now those very chains are accepted from the pulpit as defining us (a specific race, an anomalous sexual preference, an eating disorder), and the utopian’s blueprint for the perfect society—built according to the aspirations of an elite few—is an overlay forced upon every Gospel passage. We are no longer kept from our true self in God by worldly interference; immersion in the world, rather, is the only path to this new god (who is at least as manmade as “climate change”).

So the Center for Literate Values failed. Of course it did. How do you make an omelet out of mud?

Aliens, We Need You Fast!

I’ve taken to watching Ancient Aliens sometimes because I like the historical puzzlers often introduced there. What I least like is the lurch to the conclusion that every historical or archeological conundrum may be sufficiently answered by putting a spacecraft from the Delta Quadrant on the ground. The other night I was really annoyed when these two assertions were made within five minutes of one another: a) that life could not have evolved on Earth without the Moon’s stabilizing influence on tides and axial wobble, and b) that ancient texts actually refer to a time when there was no Moon. Wa… wa… wait a minute, now! Who could have observed the moonless period and passed along that information if the Moon was needed for life to evolve? What looked like a Homeric text was quickly flashed across the screen; but Homer only mentions the Moon twice (in similes belonging to the Iliad), so I don’t know what the fleeting Greek hexameters were meant to peddle. I was reminded of how con artists will say they’re from the FBI and then flip out some toystore badge that they withdraw immediately.

Wildly presumptuous conclusions, internal contradictions within arguments, inadequate documentation… these are characteristics not just of offerings on the History Channel, but of pretty much every aspect of our culture (or our post-culture, as I call it). I heard an “expert” of some sort declare on TV the other night that our children grow brighter and brighter by the generation, and images of kids playing on smartphones appeared. If I slip on a pair of Nikes, does that make me faster than a barefooted Zulu?

Indeed, the case for our steadily dumbing down rests on the very proliferation of “devices” among us. They’re smart, all right, those chips and circuits. They do more and more of our thinking for us, to the point that our ability to string ideas together sensibly is beginning to atrophy. I had a girl in one of my classes last spring who had attended a writing class two years earlier as a freshman. I was very happy to see that she’s signed up near the end of her college work, because she had consistently made really sharp contributions in class when barely out of high school. Boy, did I ever miss the mark in that prediction! As a near-senior, she had become a dope and a nuisance, fiddling around on YouTube and tittering with her best friend as I tried to conduct discussions. She had lost all apparent regard for social propriety, for professional obligation, and for dedication to self-improvement—and, oh, by the way, her grammar had grown atrocious. After almost the full battery of undergraduate courses, she was preparing to enter the “educated adult mainstream” a worse writer and thinker than she had reached us.

This is only a graphic instance of a phenomenon that I see repeated year after depressing year. It’s one of the reasons I’ll be retiring soon. I can’t take it. You see, we educators egg this kind of thing on. Instead of demanding that students leave their i-gear and e-gadgets at the door, we require them to spend more and more time online. We tell the public that we’re “preparing America’s youth for the world of tomorrow”… or some such crap. Meanwhile, they think that research is chasing down a keyword phrase. They gather their news from the headlines that Google is pleased to flash before them when they power up. They learn to express allegiance or acquire a following by tweeting cliché one-liners and uploading photos of themselves mugging in front of some cliché venue. They have no depth and no originality… and we’re doing it to them, at an accelerated rate, all because a) we don’t wish to be thought Luddites and “flat-earthers”, b) our administrators are pushing all of it full-force (to ease more of us off the payroll and to elbow more contracts to their buddies and relations in tech), and c) we don’t have to work as hard if the children are punching buttons all period.

Is it any wonder that the line between documentary and cartoon is blurring? I guess the only meaningful question, in terms of our collective future, is whether we’ll be able to shift all thinking competency over to computers and robots before our own spiraling incompetency leaves us as dumb as a baked squash.

 

Now Big Brother Is Coming After Our Language

I’ve been chipping away on about the fifth or sixth revision—and much the most thorough one I’ve ever done—of a textbook I wrote years ago for a unique class. The intent is to teach Latin and Ancient Greek concurrently, emphasizing their many points of overlap, while at the same time drawing parallels with several modern romance languages. I guess you could say it’s a crash course in several mutually supportive languages for a generation that doesn’t have time to waste. I was hoping that a publisher somewhere might help me market the book to home-schoolers… but the publishing industry has degenerated to the point that you, as an author, are expected to have an audience and/or marketing strategy in you hip pocket, and not just a manuscript. Your publisher’s job is confined to pushing a few buttons and raking in the money. And since home-schoolers are a rather scattered group, by definition—and since my name isn’t Kim Kardashian or James Comey—no publisher will touch my unique little volume. Well, I’ll sell it myself through my website someday soon.

But anyway… the thought has occurred to me several times that I’m probably risking a lawsuit now when I teach this kind of subject matter. You see, the ancient languages in question have three genders; and gender must frequently be expressed in such parts of speech as adjectives—we’re not just talking about the “he/she” pronoun pair. (Some languages, like Russian and Arabic, even indicate gender in certain tenses of their verbs.) On the basis of what I hear to be happening in Canada, the teaching profession could become very dangerous very quickly. That’s one reason that I’m about to walk away from it. I only hope I haven’t waited too long.

What do you do on the day when some frosted nut-bar protests, “I’m uncomfortable with the word for ‘anger’ being feminine,” or, “It’s really sexist to make the word for ‘sun’ masculine but the word for ‘moon’ feminine.” Do you tell the whine-bag to use any gender he/she/it/they wants for any word, and abrogate your duty to correct improper usage? In Canada, O Canada, apparently, you can be fined for using gender-specific pronouns that offend a “trans” person (whatever the hell that means), and you can also have your child taken away if you refuse to support the public education system’s push to mainstream transgenderism (whatever the hell that means).

This sort of thing is no longer harmless idiocy. In fact, it’s time for young people to see it in its true colors. The edu-political complex has been working for decades now to dismantle all social structures that bind us together without the help of a centralized bureaucracy. It has denigrated mainstream religious faith while laboring hard and long to wedge in faiths with implicit or potential points of cultural clash; it has prosecuted the same kind of subversion in terms of the broader cultural usage, as when it undermines the lingua franca and promotes a sense of ethnic division; and it has waged war upon the nuclear family from every possible direction, but especially through the ongoing sexual revolution. Many younger people now perceive no stability or security in anything around them—not their religion, not the language they intend to use at the grocery store, not the ground rules of a simple dinner-and-a-movie date. Only the new, nannified Uncle Sam seems as solid as a marble edifice. It is that impersonal god of the state who truly loves them and will look out for them, and certainly not their family or their neighbors. Normal human ties are only treacherous snares: that faceless, aloof, omnipotent System promising lifelong fairness to and concern for all is the one god worth praying to and the one shoulder worth crying on.

Now, our gender-touchy whiner who insists on saying buenas dias and buenos noches has no idea that he/she/it/they is a pawn in a power play; but when we become too paralyzed even to address to each other without first consulting Big Brother’s manual of Correct Speak, then the forces of evil will have won the game for our future simply by moving pawns around—lots and lots of pawns.

On Pessimism and Misanthropy

Pessimism is the routine expectation that things will happen for the worst (pessimus being Latin for “worst”). Misanthropy literally means “hatred of mankind” in Greek (misos + anthropos)–but in common usage, its tone is somewhat milder, as in “not trustful of people”.

I have been called both of these; and while I certainly haven’t a lot of trust in people, especially in an age where young high school and college graduates are constantly encouraged to “follow their dreams” in idiotic commencement addresses (a recipe for disaster, given the irresponsibility of dreams nourished on video games and Netflix fantasies), I think “the worst” is most often averted when we’re suspicious of our neighbors. The founders of the republic thought the same thing. In my lifetime, it has been the optimists who typically open the door to disaster: the people whose expectations are so absurdly self-indulgent and rose-colored that cynical manipulators run circles around them and create a hell on earth. Then, when the “snowflakes” finally wake up and realize that they’ve been played, they become as naïve in their mistrust as they were formerly in their gullibility. They tend to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong at the doorstep of a certain designated group of villains, in a romantic kind of Manichaeism—good guy versus bad guy—rather than growing up and recognizing that all people have at least latent corruption nestled somewhere within them.

The trouble with optimism is that it can leave those whom it burns stupidly pessimistic. And on their way to getting badly burned, the naïve can get innocent people killed. I won’t repeat my remarks of a few weeks ago about Pope Francis.

Let me toss out just a couple of examples that sailed past my bow this week in illustration of why I don’t feel just all peachy soft and fuzzy about human civilization’s future.

One case stares at me from my Kindle almost every time I fire it up. The murder mystery seems to be to our casual reading public what oats are to a horse. Now, my mother loved mystery novels, and I think most of us enjoy a good crime drama on occasion. I had to give up watching Joe Kenda, however, because at some point I just couldn’t take any more young single moms letting strangers they’d picked up at the bar into their lives and winding up in a dumpster. Real murder, you see, is anything but glamorous. It’s the most squalid crime imaginable. The motive is generally some mix of lust, greed, egotism, and stupidity—with a very strong dose of the last: murderers are almost never evil geniuses. The murder itself is usually a brutal act of superior physical strength asserting itself over a victim screaming piteously, and pointlessly, for mercy. Even the higher predators in the animal food chain show more heart than the average murderer.

Yet nowadays, even as we create safe spaces and trigger alerts to coddle our epidermis-free sensitivity, we willingly accept murder into our amusements as an integral part of escapist fantasy. It’s the sanitization of murder in the pulp romance that gripes me—the degradation of mass taste that is implied in that makeover of human depravity. Joe Kenda’s tales were real enough to leave me mildly nauseated after a while: Joe Kindle keeps insulting my intelligence with teases about the latest “humorous, sexy murder mystery”.

One more quick example: I was looking up the Romanian word for “bull” because I know almost no Romanian whatever, and I needed to make a linguistic point about the modern languages descended from Latin. I’m not kidding you: the first full page of a dozen entries that popped up on my computer screen when I Googled my question offered Romanian street parlance for “bullsh*t”. Seems that we have all forgotten about the male bovine with a bellowing voice and what Jack Falstaff called a “pizzle”. How did we come to the point where coprologisms have more currency among us than basic words for basic realities? What does that say about us?

So, no, I’m not real happy with things. It’s because I can still generate the energy to be upset that the notion of effective action continues to mean something to me. Would we be better off just smiling every time our decadent culture serves us up a dish of “bull” when we ask for bread?

Publishing: The Grandest and Vilest of Occupations

As I prepare to put my association with The Center for Literate Values to bed, after a seventeen-year struggle to make it grow, I’m greatly relieved… but also saddened. A lot of stuff in my life seems to be getting bundled off into memory’s attic at just this time. My son is done with college and busy with a full-time job at a location almost a thousand miles away. Who knows when I’ll see him again? I can’t wait to sell this old house and move into a new one built much more to our taste… but my boy grew up here, and every inch of the property stirs its own recollections. I’m about to begin my professional swan song as an educator, and it’s high time for me to bug out before I have to do everything online in semi-robotic fashion… but I had a few successes as a teacher, and I won’t be having any of those after next April.

The Center—and its quarterly journal Praesidium—shared much with my frustrating academic career. I thought we could reach a critical mass of people and help to keep a taste for classic literature alive; but we were forced to wage this war through a website for financial reasons, and people who surf websites generally don’t care about the proper interpretation of Virgil or Ariosto. It often seemed that I was fighting the spread of kudzu across my lawn by whipping new tendrils with vines of kudzu.

I continue to write and translate, and I know now that I can’t stop. But I also know by now that none of the conventional outlets for “success” is open to the likes of me. My translation of three medieval Celtic romances isn’t riddled with neo-Marxism, feminism, or Gay/Queer Theory, but rather juxtaposes the threesome from the point of view of comparative mythology and Christian allegorizing. Try getting that published at a university press today! A novel I wrote last summer represents through fantasy an eternal punishment for wicked deeds, its vision founded in an “absolutist” (what stupid words we’re forced to use now!) vision of good and evil. Try getting some money and press lined up for that from the “creative” community!

In fact, publishers rarely accept anything in any genre nowadays from someone not previously published and successfully marketed (the same old Catch 22 as, “We can’t give you this job unless you have experience”). Now, if your last name were Clinton or Trump or Kardashian and you were willing to tell all—in broken fifth-grade prose—about the intimate workings of certain households, the rule would be waived. Otherwise, publishers want proof that you can make money. The days of a thoughtful editorial board reading over, heatedly discussing, and taking a chance on an offbeat submission probably died somewhere in the Seventies.

Even academic publishers now require a curriculum vitae (what normal people call a résumé) to be submitted with the manuscript. The reason given for the request is completely disingenuous in an age when you can research “Halifax McGarnicle” instantly on your smartphone and see if he’s all he claims to be. No, the purpose of that somewhat creepy requirement is to ensure that the University of Deadwater Press doesn’t say “no” to Professor Gastropod, the world’s leading expert on gay behavior among narwhals.

I’m more and more attracted, then, to the idea of publishing my own stuff as cheap PDF and EPUB downloads—and the stuff of others who are equally sick of the publishing racket. We would do well to make a few dollars’ profit, but we would perhaps reach worthy audiences. And the investment would be virtually nil, unlike the notorious shakedowns operated by vanity presses, whose architects never report your sales to you honestly (as I know from bitter experience). One of the things I need to find out is if software exists to inform collaborators instantly and automatically of sales—for I would hate asking authors to rely strictly on my integrity.  I’ve known outfits whose marketers do this, and then bristle indignantly if you raise a question. Even if you set a trap and catch them in specific breaches of faith, what are you going to do—pay a lawyer to recover the ten bucks you’ve been cheated out of?  How do you prove that it’s more?

The “information for prospective authors” on my site would read something like this:

Aspiring authors are encouraged to submit their work for processing in inexpensive downloads, for which they may set their own price and for whose sale they will receive 100 percent reimbursement. The objective of this system is to draw potential buyers to a site where they may view works reflecting tastes and values similar to those of the author whom they originally came to seek; so your contribution is assessed in shoppers drawn to visit, not in pennies scooped off your sales.

I hope it works. I’m running out of ideas for saving literacy—and out of years on earth to give them a try.

The Dumbed-Down World of Peak Efficiency

I almost feel guilty, as if I’d been remiss in fulfilling a duty. Some of my best students are among those who haven’t submitted papers on time as the semester shuts down. The deadlines were published in my syllabus four months ago, and I also announced them verbally at every class meeting for the past two weeks… but today’s student tends not to read the syllabus and doesn’t soak up merely verbal comments. If the alert isn’t uploaded onto a “device”, then it will fall on deaf ears (so to speak: allusion to a quaint time when human beings acquired information by listening).

I say I almost feel guilty. I also feel really ticked off at my profession for encouraging—and often even requiring—this shift of focus from responsible reading of published matter and listening to formal utterances to a casual, passive peeking at repeated electronic prods. The latest technology is supposed to allow us to “do this for” our students better than ever next year.

Why should we? Shouldn’t a member of the grown-up world be capable of searching a document for deadlines and then remembering them? If pinging the student every hour like some kind of alarm clock when an assignment is due the next day is to be viewed as producing more efficient results, then wouldn’t yet greater efficiency be achieved if I just did the work for all of them and submitted it to myself? Then I would obtain both a hundred percent submission rate and a hundred percent “pass” rate. What efficiency!

Isn’t this exactly where we’re headed, though, as we approve more and more supplemental hardware and software to make life “quicker, easier, and more successful”? How far away are we from merely inserting chips into tiny portal at the base of the student’s skull with immense amounts of “knowledge” ready to be downloaded?

Is a critical mass of the professoriate still opposed to this kind of thing… or aren’t most of us in the Ivory Tower so enamored of looking progressive and so honest-to-goodness dumbed-down ourselves that we can no longer distinguish between successful regurgitation of “knowledge” and the ability to think?

I’m going to downgrade those few superior but scatterbrained students for being too slovenly to look up due dates and retain them—and I’m going to do so because I want them to prosper as human beings. I hope they will feel ashamed of their oversight when, inevitably, they contact me and demand an explanation for not receiving their A. I hope they’re still capable of feeling such shame. If so, then they may yet have a bright future ahead of them.