Friday, March 28, 2008

Intellectual Rehab

I am a recovering college graduate. That occurred to me this morning while perusing one of Simcha's lastest posts which decries the self-righteous prostelization-by-bumper sticker trend which is sweeping the nation. I, too, have been guilty, once upon a time, of slapping 10 inches of flat plastic across the tail end of my four door import and then feeling smugly superior as I sat in traffic, gently and passively "educating" my ignorant interstate brethren.

My message? Bush Cheney 04. The receptivity of my captive audience? Best evidenced by the key-gouges along the driver's side door. Isn't free speech wonderful?

I was asking for trouble though, pushing that agenda in the halcyon People's Republic of Boulder where they have a different understanding of "the B-word" and babies get eaten while dogs sit at table in cafes and coffee shops.

I did not fit in, and that was evidenced not so much by my behavior, (which was inexcusable, particularly on weekends) or my dress (equally regrettable, but hey, I was undercover...) What was glaringly evident, and what no amount of cursing and keg-standing could conceal, was the blatant ideological discrepancy between my actions and my beliefs, and those of my water-bonging comrades. At least they were practicing what they preached, or, er, what their Nalgene bottles and sweatshirt pins proclaimed.

Anarchy, chaos, tolerance, diversity, co-existence... all euphemisms for "Anything goes... don't judge, me bro." Anything, that is, except for Christianity. God(s) forbid anything reeking of patriarchy, crusades, or misogynistic male-dominance should influence modern thought. It is especially abhorrent to be a woman and to be oppressed by the Man and the Man's religion: I am basically an embarrassment to my gender.

Anyhow, having escaped college, shreds of dignity intact, I began to experience a curious side effect from those years of defensive, machine-gunned retorts to incredulous professors and classmates: I had forgotten how to think. Maybe that's not entirely accurate, but somewhere along the line, it was clear that I'd become somewhat reactive in my reasoning, so accustomed had I become to fighting a losing battle of ideologies.

For four years, there were precious few opportunities I had to reasonably and rationally dialogue with another human being. Rather, I trudged through the requisite lesbian feminology 101 courses, completed my advanced studies in revisionist history of the evil capitalist, and spent the majority of my library hours pouring over texts outlining various deviant sexual behaviors of the 20th century (I was a psych major, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.) For nearly half a decade, I kept my head down and my mouth shut, at least when not being directly provoked. It was easier, I realized, after a semester's worth of naive effort, to write the desired paper on the appropriate topic spewing the acceptable rhetoric, than to explain the grades I received when I ventured outside the lines.

But after college, finding myself thrust back into reality blinking and slightly stunned, it was some time before I returned to any sort of mental equilibrium. I'd venture to say I'm still not quite there, (as evidenced by the blood pressure spike that accompanies commercials for birth control or anything on MTV) but I'm getting there.

"There" being that magical place where ideas are debated freely and reasonably, and everyone is sipping a cappuchinno or a glass of wine as they ponder the merits and logic of a given argument. The place where CS Lewis met Sheldon Vanauken and company for cigars and brandies and vigorous discussions of Hedonism and Atheism and ultimately, Catholicism, (whether or not they recognized it as such) bidding each other fond farewells not with curses and raised fists, but calling to each one as he departed "Go under the Mercy."

That's where I wanted to be - still want to be - and where I thought I was going when I put my first 10 grand down that summer between graduation and orientation. But I didn't find college to be quite the meeting of the minds and the marketplace of ideas I had anticipated. What I found, rather, was a culture in crisis, imbued with the depth and integrity of one of those blaring bumper stickers. What I found was a whole lot of showy activism, lots of protesting and waving of signs and chanting of mantras, but very little... substance. (Not to be confused with substance abuse, of which there was plenty.)

No, here in America, on the hallowed grounds of the University, is where we find the most debauched, deranged, and depressed symptoms of an ailing culture that is gasping its last. As we crumble, intellectually and morally, we're going down from the inside out, and nowhere is that more apparent than within the walls of academia.

What can I suggest for other grads in recovery? A healthy dose of skepticism- real skepticism- a stepping back and examining from afar the ideals and values accumulated over your years of study. A calculated evaluation of the results of actually living relativism, not merely espousing it from behind the podium. Observe people who are practicing what they preach, read some books that are 200, 500, even 1,000 years old... and reintroduce your mind to rational thought. Logic is not dead, it's just been hiding for a few years while you buried your nose in bad philosophy and discovered your own brilliance (while simultaneously realizing your parent's idiocy.) It's not too late for us, the few, the proud, the public-schooled...

3 comments:

  1. Having a rough day, eh? How about a spiritual washing of the feet? Maybe a few passages from scripture...

    ”If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you." [John 15: 18-19]
    _______________

    "When I (St. Paul) came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

    "And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

    "Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

    "But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

    "[...]Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

    “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ."
    [1 Corinthians 2:1-25]
    ____________________

    This of course is the penance that I forgot to do from my college years, say 30+ years ago, when I resembled some of your classmates.

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  2. Tausign, your comments always make my day! :)

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  3. Ouch, Jenny. After coming across your blog it made me happy to read your sarcasm and wit once again because I could actually picture you saying everything written in your blog. Yet after this piece, me being one of your "water-bonging comrades" of the past, it makes me sad to know that underneath that veil of friendship and respect which I thought you had for me was all of this bitterness.

    I never realized that you were "undercover" when we were "friends." Thanks for that little piece of insight into our relationship. I used to think you were a good friend... Then you said you would call and you didn't. Then you did the same thing to me again. I had some doubts but still held out hope (my version of faith - that which I hold in my friends and family), until now.

    Now I realize that you got nothing out of your stay here at Boulder.

    You met no good people at all.

    While I may not be one of your god-fearing brethren, I do have my own convictions and values. I learn from my experiences - today has taught me that we never were friends. Even though I was under the impression we were, it's obvious that you didn't get anything positive from your experience at all.

    I'm glad you found your place in a new, catholic bubble.

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