All We Really Need to Know . . .

 | 

Kindergarten was a lot of fun, but I’m glad it’s over. Some people liked it so well they wish they’d never left. A few give every indication that they wish they could go back. I think a great many really need to.

In 1988, a Unitarian minister named Robert Fulghum published a bestselling book entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I’ve only read excerpts from it, so I can’t be sure of the author’s intention. From the parts I’ve seen, my guess is that he agreed with me.

I used to think that growing up was, you know, some sort of goal; it was the state of being that was ultimately desired by most human beings. The only alternative I could envision, as a child, was dying before I got old enough to be an adult. That didn’t seem like a very attractive option.

But our government, in its infinite benevolence, offers us another one.

The dominating State doesn’t want us to be adults, because adults are independent and think for themselves. It wants us to remain forever little children. It doesn’t even mind that we might be oversized brats, because then it has a ready excuse to use whatever force may be necessary to control us. Because of this, it directs much of its efforts toward treating us like children. And when we’re persistently treated in this way, most of us are going to behave like children.

That, of course, gives the State an excuse to go on treating us like kids, and on and on it goes. None of us wants to think that we are anything less than adults. But we see all those other people out there carrying on like toddlers, so we easily become convinced that for the sake of us grownups, the government must be stern and parental with them, just to keep them in line.

The dominating State doesn’t want us to be adults, because adults are independent and think for themselves. It wants us to remain forever little children.

Libertarians annoy people, because we tend to remind them of the things they learned in kindergarten and then, evidently, forgot. Most people think they remember everything they learned in kindergarten. It’s all those other fools who need to be reminded. When libertarians remind them of the basics, they’re insulted. But they really ought to humor us. All those other poor fools need every reminder they can get.

Among the admonitions issued by the Rev. Fulghum, we must share everything, play fair, not hit people, clean up our own messes, and never take things that aren’t ours. There are more rules — 16 in all — but those are the ones that absolutely must be remembered if we are to have a harmonious society. If we don’t always flush, wash our hands before eating, consume warm cookies and cold milk, or take a nap every afternoon, we might be a little tired and somewhat unhygienic, but most people will never know. And putting things back where we found them, saying we’re sorry when we’ve hurt people, watching out for traffic, and holding hands and sticking together pretty much go along with the most important suggestions. The others — living balanced lives, being aware of wonder, remembering that we will all die, and just looking — we either figure out over the course of our years on this planet or suffer the consequences ourselves.

But libertarianism is an even simpler philosophy. It boils everything down to basic logical and moral principle. It can be gunked-up and expanded into all sorts of things, many of them complicated and some even crazy. Those who, for whatever reason, dislike the notion that others might enjoy the same degree of freedom they want for themselves seem to have an extra bone in their heads that blocks them from understanding libertarian ideas.

It especially irks “progressives” — civilized, evolved, peaceful, and nonviolent as they want to think they are — to be told that when they resort to government action against people they dislike, they are using violence. It isn’t being administered directly, because they aren’t going out and shooting them or personally threatening them with guns, so they don’t want to see the connection. When libertarians patiently explain that the State has guns, bombs, tanks, police dogs, and now drones, means of force that it uses with ever-increasing frequency even on its own citizens, they pretend that’s just a technicality. No doubt they even want to believe it.

They have fallen so totally in love with government intervention in every dispute that they are actually all about aggression. Instead of progressives, they could more accurately be called aggressives.

When I debate this with aggressives on political blogs, the argument always runs something like this: “They [whoever they are, though almost always conservatives] are bad people. So we must hit them.” It’s never articulated this plainly, but of course that always comes down to being what they’re saying.

That’s the reasoning of a 5-year-old — a 5-year-old who has either yet to enter kindergarten or flunked it. And when this is pointed out to them, however gently, they almost invariably resort to calling people names and using profanity. They may think this makes them look more grown up, but it makes them look like seriously delinquent 5-year-olds. In an era when their favorite means of settling disputes was more readily employed, they’d have been hauled out behind the woodshed and paddled.

“But-but-but,” goes the standard whine, “they do it, too!” Johnny’s mommy lets him, so why can’t I?

As for conservatives, they are frankly authoritarians. They groove on violence. They can’t understand why 5-year-olds aren’t still being hauled out behind the woodshed and paddled. Johnny’s mommy probably takes him to the playground with an Uzi on her shoulder. This is the attitude they want to emulate?

How can we withdraw from imperialistic military adventures in other countries if we see violence as the solution to absolutely every problem?

How much aggression can a progressive society tolerate? That is not a trivial question. If everybody in a society behaves like a kindergartener, is real progress possible? Can such a society even function on a basically civilized level?

Libertarians may be annoying, but they’re raising a concern it behooves any serious progressive to consider. How, for example, can we withdraw from imperialistic military adventures in other countries if we see violence as the solution to absolutely every problem? If all we have is a hammer, as the saying goes, will everything in the world, at home as well as abroad, not look like a nail? How we behave at home, toward one another, does in large part determine how we behave abroad.

And if we can muster no greater fellow-feeling for other people in our own country, how on earth are we to deal with those in faraway lands with genuine compassion? There’s also a lot to the saying that charity begins at home.

I may be horribly misguided, but I’ve always been under the impression that progressives wanted to be “the adults in the room,” as they often say. That they believed human beings needed to continue evolving from a more primitive and childish state to a higher consciousness. That they wanted to keep the torch of the Enlightenment lit and moving forward through the generations. Yet increasingly they carry on like the studio audience of Captain Kangaroo.

Their response to nearly every situation is, indeed, to use government force. Not as a last resort — as may occasionally be necessary, out of self-defense, when their adversaries insist on using force against them — but as the very first and only resort. Without even trying to, as one of their heroes, John Lennon, so famously sang, “Give Peace a Chance.”

Another holy word in the progressive vocabulary — ranking right up there alongside peace — is democracy. In which they claim to fervently believe, and for the sake of which they can apparently justify almost anything they do. But without the sort of mutual respect, willingness to listen, to share everything, play fair and not hit people we were supposed to have learned in kindergarten, democracy is impossible. As are peace, equality, justice, and everything else that self-professed progressives say they favor.

Our school years, even the later ones, often seem to have been meaningless. “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school,” sang Simon and Garfunkel, “it’s a wonder I can think at all.” But some of that stuff was, indeed, meaningful — and what we learned in kindergarten actually may have been some of the most important stuff of all. They gave it to us early not because it was OK if we forgot it, but because it would be most fundamental to our lives from that time on.

Do we know enough to read the writing on the wall? Will we awaken to the realization that only in a society where everyone’s rights and freedoms are respected can anyone’s be safe? If not, that moving finger’s message on the wall will spell not progress, but doom.

Any society that has degenerated into a gigantic, unruly kindergarten will eventually find itself deprived of freedom. The jackboots will step in to restore order. For the big-moneyed backers of big government — those who actually benefit from it, those whom it ensconces in power — this is undoubtedly the plan. I wonder when “progressives” are going to wake up and see that.

I know it will happen eventually. They’ll figure it out sooner or later. I only hope that later doesn’t turn into too late.




Share This


The Babble about “Gun Violence”

 | 

When I was driving to work the other day, the only thing on the radio was a discussion of the latest crazy-high-school-student shooting. Two “newscasters” with, apparently, no news to cast were babbling about how terrified parents “across the nation” must feel about learning that someone, somewhere had used a gun in one of America’s 100,000 public schools. Of course, the babblers didn’t make the common-sense observation that such terrified parents need to calm down, the better to notice what their own kids are doing and think about whether some of them might need some mental help.

The thing that struck me most was the lead babbler’s constantly repeated query, “Why are Americans so violent?” If this query prompts you to ask, “So violent, compared with whom?”, he had an answer. Compared with the Europeans. “When you talk to Europeans, they all wonder why Americans are so violent, when in Europe, they don’t have this violence at all.” Presumably, murdering hundreds of millions of your fellow Europeans, until the Americans come in and teach you better manners, doesn’t count as “violence.” Presumably, soccer riots don’t count as violence. Presumably, the Europeans’ until-1989 addiction to the institutionalized violence of communism doesn’t count as violence.

But there was another example. “I’ve talked to Pakistanis who ask why America is such a violent country.” Oh you have, have you? Isn’t Pakistan one of those countries that has trouble turning terrorists away? And the Pakistanis think we’re violent.

In fact, the murder rate in the United States (4.7 per 100,000 population) is very far beneath the world murder rate (6.9), beneath the murder rate of a number of countries in Europe, beneath the murder rate of dear old Pakistan (7.8), and beneath the murder rate of scores of other countries and “countries” — virtually none of which, so far as I know, are habitually or even occasionally criticized for their violent dispositions. But as usual, America loses the game of cultural comparison, the function of which is never to make any society look bad except ours.

Here is Wikipedia on the recent execution of the uncle of the current dictator of North Korea:

On 12 December 2013 state media announced he had been executed, claiming that "despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him." The 2700 word statement detailing the accusations also included other charges such as placing a granite monument carved with the supreme leader's words "in a shaded corner," "let[ting] the decadent capitalist lifestyle find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic pictures among his confidants," and "half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people" when one of Kim Jong-Un's promotions was announced.

Reading this kind of thing, almost everybody laughs and says something equivalent to “there they go again.” That’s just how the North Koreans are, isn’t it? The high-class babblers then take to their computers to consider whether such events increase or decrease the possibility that North Korea will attack its neighbors with nuclear bombs, or simply continue starving its own people. There is no analysis of why the North Koreans are so violent, any more than there is any analysis of why the Pakistanis, the Mexicans (23.7 murder rate), the Hondurans (91.6), or any other people are violent — not to mention the South Africans (31.8), among whom even a man accused of helping to burn two other men to death with a necklace of burning tires can rise to the exalted position of fake sign-language interpreter at the funeral of the national hero. But there is always plenty of analysis of what is psychologically, socially, and spiritually wrong with “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States is in some way better than other countries. America is allowed to be exceptional in only one way — its amazing level of “violence.”




Share This


The Pains of Proflish

 | 

A student taking an advanced degree at a world-renowned institution sent me a news item about a math professor at Michigan State University who (allegedly, always allegedly) took off his clothes in the middle of class and ran around naked, shouting things like, “There is no f*cking God!”

No, I’m not going to claim those words as an invitation to comment on the linguistic habits of scientific atheists. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, I could do that, but it would be wrong. But I’m not sure how wrong it would be to take it as a commentary on the linguistic habits of college professors (of the which I am one). It seems to me that during the past 30 years we’ve done a lot of running around naked, intellectually speaking, and what has been revealed has not been impressive.

I can’t say I was surprised by the news my fellow Watcher sent me. What did surprise me was the reported reactions of the professor’s class. (No, I didn’t mean “were the reported reactions”; I meant was; the number of the verb follows that of the subject, which is what, and which is singular.) “We were literally scared for our lives,” one student said. “The police took about 15 minutes to get here, and during this time he continued walking around screaming.” The complaint was echoed by another student: "It took them more than 15 minutes to arrive. It could have turned into something very bad if he had a weapon on him. It was pretty infuriating to have to wait that long." And that second student wasn’t even in the professor’s presence; the professor was out in the hall, by that time, and the student was in a classroom.

The fact that the troubled pedagogue was naked didn’t seem to have allayed these young people’s fears. And as for the 15 minutes: I’m no fan of the police, but look at your watch and picture yourself getting a call, leaving your office, traveling across one of the nation’s largest college campuses, locating the place where an incident is taking place, clambering upstairs, and confronting some nut who’s running around naked . . . Now look at your watch again. Think you could make it in 15 minutes? Think that somebody has a right to complain bitterly at this complete abdication of police responsibility? Think that you and I and a bunch of fit young college kids concerned with a naked, middle-aged man possess a right to have cops show up in less than 15 minutes?

I think I’d rather take off my clothes and run around like a maniac than to utter the complaints of those college students.

But if you’re thinking just about words, and not about guts, the worst part of this report is the eight words that say, “The professor’s name has not yet been released.” Not released by whom? And why not? Everybody on the scene knew who he was. Their reactions were reported at length. A blurry picture of his apprehension was included in the news report. So why not his name?

During the past 30 years we professors have done a lot of running around naked, intellectually speaking, and what has been revealed has not been impressive.

Pity? Perhaps. But this pity, this verbal delicacy and restraint, is by no means evenly distributed. If Joe Blow from Kokomo has a fight with his girlfriend, gets a little drunk, drives down the street, and gets nailed by a passing cop, no one will withhold his name from publicity — or his mugshot either, in some jurisdictions.

The day after the scary incident, anonymous students identified the professor as a certain John McCarthy. The day after that, the really loony thing happened. An article about the affair appeared in the MSU student newspaper. You can tell MSU standards of journalism by contemplating the following sentence, which is about the weekly meeting of the “steering committee” of the university’s president: “At the Steering Committee meeting Tuesday, the conversation turned to mathematics professor John McCarthy, which students said he had a mental breakdown during a class Monday.”

“Which students said he had a mental breakdown . . .” OMG — now we know what kind of grammar MSU is teaching.

Well, let’s see what intellectual level MSU’s president is operating on. For other people, the serious issue introduced by the professor’s actions might be, “Did MSU know that at least one of its senior professors might be crazy? Does MSU have any way of discovering how many of its senior professors actually are crazy?” But that was not the issue that President Anna K. Simon wished to discuss. For her, we learn, “an incident Monday brings in to [sic] question the impact and role of social media.”

Huh? As far as I can make out from Simon’s murky remarks, murkily reported, the problem is information control: “’The complication of social media, with everyone with a camera and a cell phone, is one that we continue to struggle with in terms of information because the event would not, under (normal) circumstances, trigger one set of alerts,’ Simon said. ‘There’s also the need for more crisp communication about what the outcome was. Whether that would have controlled some of the rumors, tweets and other things, I’m not quite sure.’”

Did Michigan State know that at least one of its senior professors might be crazy? Does Michigan State have any way of discovering how many of its senior professors actually are crazy?

Let’s look at this in another way. Suppose you’re concerned about the quality of some public institution. You want to find out whether there’s any quality control. You learn that a teacher, policeman, bureaucrat, or other publicly employed personality, may have done something egregiously stupid and wrong, and perhaps illegal, while exercising his or her official duties. She’s said to have told her students to vote for Obama. He’s said to have beaten a homeless person for “resisting” some “order.” She’s accused of making a “questionable” transfer of city funds. He allegedly takes off his clothes in front of his students and runs around screaming.

You’d like more facts. But how long do you have to spend just trying to confirm this person’s name? A week? A month? Three months? Forever? Unless there’s a miracle, the information control artists will keep you from knowing what it is until virtually everyone has forgotten the episode — and then the data will be stored in a closed file, no longer accessible to the public. In the meantime, you will be informed that personnel regulations do not allow release of that information, or, pending possible legal action, the city cannot comment on this case, or some other nonsense that never applies to a normal person in a normal job (or didn’t, until the “standards” of “public service” bureaucracies spread into big private companies). And, to top it off, some CEO will entertain the media by looking at her navel and meditating about how tough the times are, what with all these cameras and phones and computers around, ready to convey the truth to anyone online . . .

So what do you think? What are we supposed to say about that? What are we able to say, since if we do comment we can always be told that we do not have all the facts?

The chair of John McCarthy’s department presumably has all the facts. These facts lead him to be concerned “about the way some people made jokes about the incident. An incident like this often teaches us who we are and what we represent. I hope we can all use what transpired after this incident to reflect on our values and our role as members of an institution that strives to be among the best of the world.”

Gosh, don’t you feel guilty? Your making jokes about a figure of authority at an institution that strives to be among the best of the world has hurt the feelings of an institution that strives to be among the best of the world. Or something.

But to continue with college professors, which I can easily do, considering that I am one, have you been following the curious case of Professor Amy Bishop? She’s the one who was recently convicted of killing three of her colleagues and wounding three others at a meeting of the Biology Department at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. That happened in 2010, and there were plenty of witnesses, because she didn’t manage to kill them all, but it took two and a half years to convict her. I don’t know why, except that it may have something to do with the cultural and verbal universe in which she lived.

Perhaps the EEOC is still trying to find out whether the woman who wasted her brother and killed or did her best to kill six of her colleagues is in “unstable mental health.”

In 1986, in Massachusetts, where’s she’s from, she killed her brother Seth with a shotgun, then went to a local auto dealership and tried to commandeer a car so she could escape. Apparently because of her family’s ties to the local power structure, she wasn’t even questioned about the shooting for 11 days. Then it was called an “accident.” Eight years later, she was implicated in an attempt to pipe bomb an academic supervisor in Boston. He had suggested she was “mentally unstable.” Four months after the attempted bombing, investigators finally showed up at her house. She was uncooperative, and the investigation was inconclusive. It went away. Seven years later, she was arrested after assaulting a woman in a fight over a high chair at an International House of Pancakes in Peabody, MA. She was sentenced to probation and an anger management class (which she probably didn’t take). In the restaurant, she had yelled, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Amy Bishop!”

Now she gets to the University of Alabama, Huntsville, where she is known as “difficult” by “some.” A good piece of reporting tells the story. Bishop didn’t publish very much; she listed her children as first and second authors on one of her publications; a student filed a grievance against her; she was detested by almost everyone.

Then, as our reporter says — and this is the cream of the jest:

In September 2009 Bishop filed a complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Someone on her departmental tenure committee had called her "crazy" in her tenure review, and would not retract the statement when an administrator gave him a chance to back down. The anonymous professor maintained that Bishop's unstable mental health was apparent on their first meeting.

The EEOC is still looking into that complaint.

I have been unable to learn whether the federal agency is still looking into it. Perhaps it is still trying to find out whether the woman who wasted her brother and killed or did her best to kill six of her colleagues is in “unstable mental health,” or, in plain terms, insane, bonkers, off her rocker, completely gone, in the zone, out of her skull, a desperate lunatic, and otherwise, well, crazy, or if she is, whether anyone should have said it.

A Martian appears in your kitchen and tells you that the folks back on the slopes of Olympus Mons have been following the Amy Bishop story on their nightly news. He wants to know what is so weird and touchy about that word crazy. He wants to know how somebody who uses it in its clearest and most self-evident application could possibly be investigated by a government of 300 million people (which presumably ought to have other things on its mind), because the word might have been discriminatory against the woman who killed four people. What words would you use to explain this?

Maybe you wouldn’t be able to find them, but we professors would — or at least keep anyone else from doing so.

On October 2, I was watching a CNN segment about why more security wasn’t provided to our diplomatic installation in Benghazi, when it was obvious that the place might be in danger from fanatic Muslims. The interviewer asked a professor — or someone who talked so much like a professor that he should immediately be given tenure — what he thought about all the warnings that came in, and apparently were not adequately heeded. Well, he said, “you have to parse the different kinds of violence that were taking place.”

That was his response.

What would you have to do to interpret that for your Martian friend?

I suppose you would start by noting that the key word was “parse.” In normal English, “parse” means to identify the grammatical functions of the words in a sentence. But in Proflish, the professor tongue, which is the status language of planet earth, the language to which all other languages aspire, “parse” means anything you want it to mean. In this case, it appears to mean something like “look at.”

Well, says the Martian, why can’t he just say “look at”?

That’s sort of a puzzler, but I can think of two, related reasons. One, he would be understood immediately, and that is not the goal of anyone speaking Proflish. Two, he would reveal the fact that he is saying nothing. Suppose I do look at or inspect various kinds of violence. Suppose I go further, and distinguish one kind of violence from another. So what? That isn’t enough. I haven’t really said anything. But a word like parse will keep everyone, or at least the interviewer, impressed with me. And that’s the point of talking, see? Ya see?

Yes, says the Martian. I’m parsing it all.


Editor's Note: Word Watch will comment on the presidential and vice presidential debates after the disease has run its course.



Share This


Seventh Grade Revisited

 | 

Junior high was fun. I was not one of the beautiful people — I was a nerd. But I enjoyed being a nerd, liked my geeky friends, and relished the self-discovery of figuring out where I fitted in. And the relief of accepting where I didn’t.

Perhaps that’s a stage we mustn’t miss, however painful it can be. If we don’t go all the way through it, maybe we sort of get stuck there. And if we aren’t willing to accept what we learn about ourselves as teenagers, we may spend the rest of our lives snubbing the icky kids and angling for a seat with the cool kids in the cafeteria.

It’s also possible that nobody makes it entirely through that phase in adolescence. I must admit there were certain aspects of it I had to revisit when I was mature enough to process them as an adult. Coming out as a lesbian was something I couldn’t bring myself to do in the Anita Bryant years, while I was still in school. Coming out of yet another closet — as a libertarian — happened even later.

Libertarian philosophy is enjoying an upsurge these days. Government has become so oppressive, so menacing to nearly every aspect of our lives, that everybody not totally under the spell of statist witchery is giving it a look. That also means it is under attack from those who are under the statist spell. Now that I’m an out-and-proud libertarian, I find myself under attack from many more quarters than I ever was for being gay — especially because I refuse to stay obediently on the gay-leftist reservation.

“Eeeewww,”I often hear, “how can you associate with those libertarians? They don't care about the poor. And they don’t care about morality, either." The latter charge, of course, comes not so much from the Left as from the social Right. Both sides agree that I’ve got cooties; they merely disagree about the sort of cooties I have.

Am I a grumpy Scrooge who doesn’t care if the poor suffer? Or am I a get-naked-and-go-crazy libertine, who thinks people should copulate like bunnies under every bush? I’m not sure how I could possibly be both, as the two don’t necessarily go together according to any logical scheme. But then again, those who desperately lob every bomb they can throw at libertarians don’t seem to need no stinkin’ logic.

There are some libertarians with whom I disagree. I may think they are callous toward those less fortunate, or that they don’t care as much as they should about morality. The hostility some seem to have toward religion grates on this particular devout Episcopalian. But I don’t regard political affiliation as a social clique.

Where did so many people get the notion that they can’t associate — ever — with those with whom they sometimes disagree? That’s the way kids think, but I was under the impression that grownups eventually learned to rise above it. Who said life had to be pleasant every minute of every day, or that we’d never need to work with those we wouldn’t care to play with? I wouldn’t want to sit in the cafeteria with everybody I know. But if I share their convictions on matters of importance to us all, I am willing to work with them to make the world a better place.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the saying goes. Or, as the Founder of my faith said, “Those who are not against us are for us."

Those of us who have truly graduated from junior high school understand that we can’t simply go with the flow, that however we were made, and however we got here, we do not exist merely to conform. We have voices so they can be heard. I appreciate that as a libertarian, my voice is being heard. And I appreciate all who will listen — even when they disagree.

Perhaps that’s when it matters most.




Share This
Syndicate content

© Copyright 2017 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.