Orlando

I’m not going to start about guns or how helpless I feel again. Just the e-mail I sent my class after reading something by Natalie Diaz that broke through.


Friends,

I don’t spend much time on FB, and wish I spent less than that, but this came down the line today from one of our poets, Natalie Diaz, re: the shootings early this morning in Orlando, and I wanted to share it with you.

We’re one body and one body doesn’t hurt itself.

50 people are dead not for who they hurt but for how they loved: they love the way I do

Be safe, be kind,
Chris

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On Socratic method

Just quick, it’s late, and I’ve a torrent to watch. Witch.

I was made sad beyond all reasonable bound by a student’s complaint. “He has a great sense of humour but he doesn’t teach.” Someone I admired and respected so was open to feeling hurt by.

I guess in a sense she was right. You know that guy Obama? Whom I aspire to be when I grow up? And who got mocked for saying something about leading from behind? I sort of teach like that. Want you to be your own teacher, and poke you till you find it.

Times I want to say, some students, smart and shallow, young and coddled, they aren’t up for being poked. Entitled brats.

Times I want to say, it’s me fucked up, poked when I had no okay to, missed the cues, all my bad. (I’m leaving out all the lovely times it went bitchin’ fine.)

Seems to me, as of this now, it’s neither this nor that.

There’s no telling how the combos, one person and another, or 20, are going to work it out. We like to think our sciences can say, but no.

All there is, is, I do my most honourable best, you do your most honourable best. And if we fail to meet – no harm, no foul, okay?

I like to think, when I’m feeling sympathique to Plato, that that’s a premise to all his dialogues (just as all his dialogues are together a premise to all our universities). If we fail to meet, no harm, no foul, okay?

It happens to the best of stars, too. They fly on.


The bit I’ve put in my syllabus newly, with that student’s, and another’s, negations in mind.

I work by Socratic method. I ask questions meant to sharpen distinctions, shed light on unexamined premises, and enhance a student’s own capacity for inquiry. It’s a messy, improvisational process that sometimes falls flat and makes everyone (me included) feel awkward. Sometimes it looks sort of inefficient. And yet it’s the oldest teaching method we have (older than the university, as an institution, itself) and has survived this long for a reason. It makes the student her own teacher.

If it causes discomfort sometimes that’s why. Or I think so anyway. Being asked to be your own teacher is not easy or comfortable.

They’re growing more tender by the year. What’s the bearing we need to meet them rightly and kindly? I want not to do harm – want also, not to let up.

Our sickened discourse

This is what sickens our discourse. A small instance of it. I was asking me, how can I get excited about Clinton, since she’s the one now. And I thought, Warren for VP, a Clinton–Warren ticket, now that I could get excited about.

Next thought, Is the country ready for that, two women, oh boy I dunno.

Most of the world, it wouldn’t be no insuperable thing. Indira Ghandi. Golda Meir. Margaret Thatcher. Corazon Aquino. Benazir Bhutto. Dilma Rousseff. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. And those are just ones (in)famous enough to come quick to mind. (From one to two, okay, sure, but. No great leap in mind.)

Here in this backwater superpower though. Here, for a woman to have won through to major candidacy is huge. And I’m glad for it, lots, though I could wish for another individual than her. (I sense in there a good person. Don’t think she’s sold her soul but subdivided and mortgaged the parcels.)

So I wasn’t insulting women, folks, I was insulting America. If you want to get mad at me, that’s okay, but get mad for the right thing.

A senator made the mistake of asking the same completely reasonable question. Is the country “ready for” a two-woman ticket? And got shouted back into place for it. From Politico:

Sen. Jon Tester on Tuesday walked back controversial comments he made last week about voters possibly being unready for an all-female presidential ticket.

Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said he “wasn’t thinking” last week when asked if Elizabeth Warren would make a good running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“I’ve never had a position against her. She’d make a great running mate, absolutely,” he said today.

Conservative research group America Rising seized on Tester’s earlier comments in an email blast today questioning whether Democratic Senate candidate Maggie Hassan, current governor of New Hampshire, would denounce the “sexist statement.”

Tester said his response to a question from reporter Todd Zwillich last week about the possibility of a Clinton-Warren ticket — “Is the country ready for two women? I don’t know” — was “totally off the cuff.”

“Is the country ready for two women?” = “Is there still enough silent bias or kneejerk sexism lingering in the electorate to doom a two-woman ticket?”

The insult wasn’t to the women, or to women, but to the country.

When discourse gets choked off like this – when in a momentary lapse of self-monitoring a politician expresses directly a sincere thought and is slammed for it and made to walk it back – it’s got several pernicious effects.

One, politicians get that much better at slippy speech that says nothing.

Two, we get that much more disheartened by the emptiness of their discourse.

Three, a demagogue like Donald Drumpf gets that much more compelling. He’s renounced self-monitoring, brags he speaks off the cuff, is proud silly to offend.

We are so tired of monitored speech that we will, some of us, fly to any speech with spontaneity in it – it sounds a bit like the meaning we’re starved for.

With the cadences of a hypnotist and the patter of a carnival huckster to boot he “tells it like it is.” His monstrous eructations have a quality of life to them, an aliveness. It’s terrible. If we had a healthy political discourse, in which leaders could say what they think, Drumpf would pose no temptation.

The sort of smackdown Tester got helps make a Drumpf possible.


O my students. Campus discourse isn’t separate from this. Every act of silencing or censorship or imposition of correct thinking sends energy by secret karmic channels to a Drumpf rally somewhere in the country.

When did the Left become the superego and the Right the id?

How did that effing even happen?


The image atop is from a papyrus scroll containing Plato’s Phaedrus. A subtle freewheeling wideranging dialogue 2000+ years old that anticipates many – all? – of the questions we’re facing here about rhetoric, representation, misprision, the manipulation of affection.

Plus it’s got – I swear it’s true – a joke along the lines of, Is that a scroll in your toga, or are you just happy to see me?

Teaching a bit of it two weeks hence to my Editing and Publishing class.

Here endeth the interlude.


I write still working to process two unsettlements. One, an article in the New Yorker that leads with a petition in which students at my alma mater (Oberlin) accuse the college of perpetuating, under the cover of “equity, inclusion, and diversity,” the same old regime of “imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and … cissexist heteropatriarchy.” (Here’s the response from Oberlin’s president, Martin Krislov.)

Other, and prior, a similar document presented by the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation to the president of Western Washington University, where I teach, calling for, among other things, the creation of a College of Power and Liberation, and

the creation and implementation of a 15 persxn paid student committee, The Office for Social Transformation, to monitor, document, and archive all racist, anti- black, transphobic, cissexist, misogynistic, ablest, homophobic, islamophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitism, and otherwise oppressive behavior on campus.

If I read the document correctly, this body would be empowered to dismiss any and all faculty, on the basis of a “three-strike disciplinary system.” (Can’t find the full text of the response from Western’s president, Bruce Shepherd, but excerpts here.)

Links cuz the answer to what upsets you ain’t to silence it.