May We Take The High Road

Despite the hope implied in the masthead of this blog–“The rebel of the 21st century will be old fashioned”–I don’t know if there’s really a resurgence of conservative culture on the rise, especially since so little of what is coming into power now is actually conservative.

However, if the Right is about to enjoy a cultural moment of influence, some seem keen to abuse it…or at least are enamored of the fear that it might be abused:

Back in 2009 when Nancy Pelosi and the proggies were ramming ObamaCare down our throats someone opined that they were acting like they’d never lose another election. Since then they’ve spent eight years weaponizing the federal government. Now they’ve handed all that power over to The Donald and the Republicans and they’re terrified that we’ll do to them what they wanted Hillary to do to us. They’re looking under their beds and in their closets, terrified they might find the monsters of their own creation. The monsters they thought they’d control.

But monsters, once created, are notoriously difficult to control. You’d think all those English Lit majors would have remembered that, and we should remember it too…

This will be a chance to prove ourselves to posterity. Now we will see if we truly live by values, or if we will succumb to the growing temptation to be populist fascists. For example, I agree entirely with this:

Conservatives have understandably felt for decades that the higher education establishment is indifferent or hostile to their interests. The number of right-of-center faculty has dwindled to the point of disappearance; Republican speakers are regularly shouted down; campus speech codes and harassment policies seem designed to disfavor conservative points of view. Now that the cultural wind is at their backs as never before, some on the Right may be tempted to be vindictive, and to do to college liberals what college liberals have done to them. Ben Carson, currently being considered for a Trump Administration cabinet position, suggested during the primaries that the government should police colleges for liberal bias.

Needless to say, such efforts would be deeply destructive. If Orwellian left-wing speech codes are wrong, then McCarthyist speech codes are wrong as well. If the principle of academic freedom requires the protection of conservative scholarship, it requires the protection of liberal scholarship, too. The aim of genuine defenders of the liberal tradition must be to promote tolerance and open-mindedness, not to replace left-wing academic hegemony with a right-wing version.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and two wrongs don’t make the Right.

Censoring Huck Finn Dilutes Power

The new, redacted version of Huckleberry Finn (replacing all instances of the n-word with “slave”) is still a major topic of discussion, which is impressive enough, and more so as this hasn’t exactly been a slow news week, with the Arizona shooting.  Clearly, this event has brought out a lot of passion and opinions.  Much has been said about honoring Mark Twain’s intended language, about the nature of reality in the period that Twain wanted to depict in all of its ugliness, and about revisionist history (and censorship) as narcissistic navel-gazing.  All of that’s true, so I won’t labor the points here, but I think I have two good ideas to add to the discussion.

1)  There’s already a high school in a predominantly black part of my town where Huck Finn has been under a de facto ban for years, as the staff is worried that its use of the n-word will inflame the community.  I hope the community’s maturity would surprise them, but their worry exists with good reason for, as our attorney general has noted, when it comes to race, we are a nation of cowards.  We’re afraid to discuss race for fear of being offensive.  If a group of white people is talking about race, and a black person is present, the mood changes, and everyone tiptoes on egg shells.  Whatever your race, you know this is true.  This isn’t because we’re all secretly hiding some bias, but because we’ve been trained to see racism everywhere, and we’re paranoid about our peers being suspicious.  Isn’t this sad? 

Censoring the n-word in Huck Finn will only make such problems worse, because it implies that there’s something wrong with the text, and if there’s something wrong with the text, it must be racism.  One of the problems with our society is its growing inability to see shades of gray, and this censorship will only reinforce the tendency to say that if something is frank and realistic about race, it must be racist.  The irony of this tragedy is that in Huck Finn (which is about racism, but not racist itself), the poor, oppressed black man is the ultimate hero (see below).  In a setting that Twain filled with white idiots, Jim is one of literature’s earliest black heroes. 

2)  Remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  Of course you do: Goldilocks goes exploring and finds a cottage in the woods.  She walks on in and, finding the place vacant, helps herself to their porridge and beds.  She falls asleep until the three bears come home and find her, whereupon she runs off.  The end. 

Ever realize just how pointless that story is?  That’s because that isn’t the story–like so many of our old fairy tales, our storybook version has been edited to protect us.  In the original, the bears come home and eat Goldilocks.  This ending carried a clear moral to it: straying too far from the established path into a wilderness, by yourself, is dangerous (also, breaking and entering is bad).  The edited ending not only “protects” us from violence, it renders the whole story meaningless. 

So also with a censored Huck FinnContinue reading

Tianenmen Square, 20 Years Later

I was eleven years old in the summer of 1989, and though the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle three years before and the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later were also watershed landmarks from my childhood, the massacre at Tianenmen Square and throughout the suburbs of Beijing on June 4, 1989 was the most formative to me. 

Amidst all the eager optimism surrounding those years when communism fell and the Cold War ended, this event was a stunning reminder to my young self that the world was not and probably never would be full of nothing but rainbows and candy.  (I suppose that’s the lesson young people today may have picked up from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.)  I watched those tanks on TV and was grateful for freedom, and resolved to never forget that–as I read later on–the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. 

Today, as China grows in importance and as my own interest in China and the Chinese language continue strong, my enthusiasm for them, like for so many other things, must carry the stain of this shameful tragedy, made all the worse by China’s refusal to even acknowledge much less deal with it. 

Two years ago, my family hosted an exchange student from China.  Even though I had a picture of the famous “tank man” (below) in my classroom and I know he saw it, the subject never came up.  I don’t know if I should have told him about it or not.  I don’t know if he already knew anything about it or not. 

But I do know that we must always be serious about preserving our freedoms to assemble and speak out, especially if it offends the established order, and we must be ready to help our friends in China learn the truth about their recent past when we can.  China can’t regulate and block their Internet access forever


Teenage Tragedies

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting today on a 16 year old girl who died Sunday when the car she was in rolled over.  It rolled because the drunk teenage driver was racing another teen.  The driver, the son of a local judge, is on suicide watch. 

This tragedy is heartbreaking enough, but what makes it worse is that this keeps happening

There’s a memorial in front of my school for two young women who were killed in a speed-related traffic accident just off campus three years ago. 

In 2002, two cars full of kids were returning to Las Vegas High School from lunch down a stretch of Sahara Avenue that kids often use for racing.  They went too fast and one car crashed, killing two of the four girls in that car

I worked there that year, and knew one of the survivors.  I remember going to see her in the hospital, trying to cheer her up a bit.  Her recovery was long and painful; she’s an adult by now, and I don’t know how fully she ever healed from her injuries.  The other survivor lost a leg entirely.

The driver was friends with two girls in one of my classes.  When the driver died, her friends told me that they were almost glad for her, because otherwise she’d have had to live knowing that she was responsible for killing another friend. 

And yet, by the next year, kids were speeding down that street again.  And in front of my current school, where the beautiful memorial reminds us of two more girls who died the same way, I see cars full of kids speeding nearly every day, going off into the desert or passing others on a two lane road. 

I can’t help but wonder, how are we supposed to teach kids to write and calculate if we can’t even teach them not to kill themselves with reckless driving?

Continue reading