Cultural Appropriation. Huh?

As you know I try to avoid overt politics, but sociology—how human societies are ordered and disordered—fascinates me.  Today I bring another example. 

It seems there is a group that is asking the United Nations to make what they call “cultural appropriation” illegal.  A Dean of the University of Colorado Law School said that the UN should negotiate a legally binding document that would “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale, and export of traditional cultural expressions”. 

Say what?

The utter nonsense of this idea just overwhelms me.  My first reaction was one of dismay.  I’m British, Irish, and German according to my DNA, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up Spaghetti Bolognese for Steak and Kidney Pie!

As I looked into it though, it got worse.  Noodles were invented by the Chinese.  Even if I had some Italian DNA I’d have to get permission from China to have my spaghetti.  Olive Garden and Macaroni Grill would have to close their doors. 

And speaking of China, if the owners of the Oriental House restaurant—the best Chinese buffet in the Fourstates—couldn’t serve Ozark hillbillies and Oklahoma cowboys, they would soon be broke.

So who gets the corn?  Americans?  Or Native Americans?  At a minimum it would all have to stay here, but what would we do with it?  How would Hispanics and other Latinos make tortillas?  I guess we could negotiate an agreement and make it “consensual”.  But it would have to be reciprocal or Taco Bell would be in trouble. 

I suppose if it were determined that corn belongs to all Americans we could make moonshine.  It goes down very smooth; it just doesn’t have quite the nutritional value of a tortilla. 

Some of you will say I’m just being silly.  This is not about food or commodities, it’s about cultural and intellectual property.  Really?  Again I ask:  Who makes that decision? 

I make my living working for an Indian Tribe.  They are great people to work for, and I like being here.  Because of my appreciation and respect for all of those in “Indian Country” as it is called, I have two watercolors hanging on my wall.  Yes, they were painted by a Native American artist.  I enjoy them immensely.  One of them depicts a young Indian on a horse.  He is wearing feathers, and holding his lance and shield.  Very iconic. 

But wait.  The indigenous peoples of this continent did not have horses.  Horses arrived with the Europeans.  They were quickly appropriated by the native peoples, but they didn’t originate here.  Did the artist ask permission to use that image?  Maybe he tried, but who would he ask?

Who gets to lay claim to horses?  Probably not even the Europeans.  They got them from the Central Asian steppes, and the North African coast.  My ancestors took those animals, and through the process of selective breeding created the breed we know today as the Thoroughbred. 

Thoroughbreds came with the early settlers to America and mixed with other breeds to create more new breeds.  The Morgan Horse is a totally American breed, and was used along with other breeds and cross-breeds to create the even more famous American breed, the Quarter Horse.

My point, of course, is that all of our various cultures have something that was “appropriated” from another culture.  It how our species, homo sapiens, behaves.  Businesses today even memorialize this appropriation.  They call it “Best Practices”.  Selecting the best of a culture and incorporating it into your own is how mankind has made it this far.  After all, we Europeans turned Americans, wouldn’t be here today if our ancestors had not appropriated many of the ways of the native Americans who were here before us.  There was a time when schools actually taught that fact.  If not for a man from the Patuxet tribe named Squanto, we were told, the Pilgrims would have all died.  We were taught to admire and respect him.  I still do. 

In the end, cultural appropriation is the best way to disseminate ideas and practices.  I’d love to see more people appropriate the American concept of “Equal Justice Under the Law”.  It’s a much better way than sending soldiers to foreign cultures to “Nation build”.  If I can appropriate what I like, I can make it mine.  If you come using force to make me make it mine, you’ll have a fight on your hands. 

You’d think an organization like the “United Nations” would understand that.

Boxes, Amraps, and WODs...

It was a good Memorial Day holiday.  Thank you to my son for sharing his story.  Thank you to those who sent heart felt messages.  It is good that we remember.  As the historian, David McCullough said, “How can we profess to love our country and take no interest in its history?” 

My oldest son and I did watch the Indy 500.  It was a pretty exciting race this year and ended on a satisfying note.  I had no problem with Takuma Sato winning the race.  He is a good driver, been around a while now, and seems to be a decent sort of fellow.  All in all, a very good holiday weekend. 

All of which left me totally unprepared for what awaited me this week.  Apparently, my daughter and oldest son, in collusion with the Russians from what I surmise, conspired in a nefarious plot to thoroughly disrupt my life.  As a result of this conspiracy, on Tuesday evening at 6pm I found myself in what I now know is called a “Crossfit Box”.   

I was confronted with incredibly fit, but friendly, people talking to me about “Clean”, “Jerk”, “Burpees”, “Cross-bar burpees”, “Amraps”, “Squat Protocols”, and a host of other words I didn’t know.  Then they told me how much I’d like getting to know “Randy”, “Cindy”, and especially, the one they call “Murph”.   

They were lying.   Please forgive my language here, but honestly “Cindy” is no fun.  “Randy” is a bear.  And “Murph” is…well, just way way beyond my comprehension. 

As some of you have no doubt by now guessed, I, without real warning and no time to prepare, suddenly found myself down the rabbit hole, and into “Crossfit Land”.  Whoa!  This is another universe whose inhabitants spend a portion of their day torturing their bodies to the point of collapse, and then spend the rest of the day telling each other what great fun it was!   

I don’t use the word “torture” lightly.  If the CIA finds out about this thing, we won’t ever have to worry about them “waterboarding” anyone again: 

CIA agent:  “Hey Chief, we’ve got a suspected terrorist here.  Should we waterboard him to get the information”?  

CIA Chief:  “No, just give him “Cindy”.  If that doesn’t work, try “Randy”.  Let’s stay away from “Murph” for now.  We want to stress him, we don’t want to kill him.” 

I’m telling you.  Problem solved.  

Naturally, I’m looking at the humorous side, but this really is serious.  What I learned is that they give certain WOD’s (Workout of the Day), the name of a person.  Certain “benchmark” workouts are named for girls, and certain other specific workouts are named for military and law enforcement heroes.  “Randy”, is named for Randy Simmons, an LAPD Captain who was shot and killed by a gang member in 2008.  “Murph” is named for Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005.   

Anyway, the truth is I can’t even begin to touch “Cindy”, or “Mary”, or “Fran”, or anyone else for that matter.  I am a long way from having the ability to do that.  What little they’ve had me do has been tough enough.  To say that I am “sore” is an understatement.  All I know is that I am extremely grateful that my workplace has handicapped accessible bathrooms.  Those grab bars on the wall made the difference between success and total disaster.   

After one set of difficult movements, I expressed my dismay to my daughter.  She just laughed and said, “Just think.  The harder you work now, the longer it will be before I put you in the nursing home”.  Such love. 

She takes care of me though.  Yesterday we had a drill where we divided into teams.  Not surprisingly none of the other Captains picked me, so she ended up with me by default.  I told her that I didn’t want to hold her team back, but she assured me, “That’s not how this works.  You will contribute even if you can’t do very much”.  It turns out that she was correct in that regard, and it did feel good that my little effort really did count.  It counted mostly for me because I was doing the exercise.  And that was the point.  At the end, no team claimed to “win”.  It wasn’t even discussed.  All that mattered is that you and your companions encouraged each other to do your best, whatever level that was.   

I’ll admit it.  I like that attitude.  I like the idea of competing against no one except myself.   And I like the idea that someday I’ll get to do “Mary” or “Cindy” or “Fran”, and the Sergeant Major won’t be at all upset.  In fact, she’ll be cheering me on.    

Memorial Day 2017

Memorial Day is upon us.  The “unofficial” beginning of summer.  Party time at the lake, the park, or the back yard.  Time to drink a few “barley pops” and watch the Indianapolis 500.  I love the Indy 500.  I’ve watched or listened to it regularly since I was a boy.  There’s something mystical about really fast cars.  Nothing against the NASCAR people, but I’m pretty sure that when Thomas Jefferson talked about “the pursuit of happiness”, he meant open wheel racing at great speed. 

Anyway, on Memorial Day weekend in 1989 I was fortunate enough to be able to take my young sons to “The Race”.  It was a long, hot, tiring, and ultimately bittersweet day as we watched the great Emerson Fittipaldi beat our favorite, Al Unser, Jr. (Little Al) in the last two laps of the race.  Still, it was a good day.  An All-American Day. 

Fourteen years later in 2003, those boys were not on Turn 2.  One was sitting just south of the DMZ in South Korea, and the other was sitting somewhere south of Baghdad, Iraq while Gil de Ferran was winning that year’s race. 

Today, the son who was in Iraq is my guest blogger.  He left the Marine Corps, got a Master’s Degree, and now serves as a Special Investigator with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).  While a student at OU he had a story published in the Spring 2012 edition of The Collegiate Scholar.  This Memorial Day weekend we want to share that story with you. 

Field of Stones
A Slice of Life

By Brendan Horner
University of Oklahoma

There’s a neighborhood of white stone.  It is a place of peace, of mercy, of faith.  Only those who transcend sacrifice reside there.  I have been there to walk on the green grass, feel the warm sun and gentle breeze.  I have heard the echoes of eternity there.  It is a place of serenity because I am welcomed with an open spirit by those who inhabit the grounds.  One day I may be here too.  My place reserved beside those immortal souls.  This is not about me though.  It is about a friend.  He lives in the neighborhood of stones, gleaming marble edifices that serve as pillars that mark all that is great about humanity. 

The military builds a special bond that goes beyond a casual life connection.  It is a mutual understanding that defies race, creed, color, gender or religion.  Alan and I didn’t know each other until we served together.  He was my engineer, I was his communications tech.  I called him a “grease monkey”, and he called me “commie”.  There was the time that we shared a butt chewing from the First Sergeant for ordering a pizza to be delivered to us in the woods on a field exercise.  We shared the same dirty water from a North Carolina creek on maneuvers, suffered through cold nights of arctic frost on watch, and drank the sweet water of life we called beer.  We were brothers, we are brothers. 

In January of 2003 we were called to go forth into the great unknown…to war.  I don’t want to dwell on our time there or what we did.  The days were filled with boredom interspersed with brief moments of sheer terror.  I do remember that we both laughed the first time we felt and saw incoming rounds.  Was anyone really dumb enough to shoot at us?  At the US Marines?

“During this period, I Marine Expeditionary Forced conducted the longest sequence of coordinated combined arms overland attacks in the history of the Marine Corps…Utilizing the devastating combat power…and maintaining momentum through the herculean efforts..I MEF destroyed nine Iraqi Divisions.  During the 33 days of combat…I MEF sustained a tempo of operations never before seen on the modern battlefield…By their outstanding courage, aggressive fighting spirit, and untiring devotion to duty, the officers and enlisted personnel of I MEF reflected great credit upon themselves and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
                                                            --Presidential Unit Citation, issued 3 Nov 2003

That pretty much sums it up.  It was hot, dirty, dangerous work.  After achieving our objectives at Baghdad we set up just south of the city at Al Kut, an old Iraqi air base long since forgotten by time itself.  We were tired and letting other have their turn up front while we rested.  The term “rested” being a relative term.  There was gear to clean, patrols to mount, equipment to inventory, and always something needed to be repaired. 

It was a cool evening with the temperature hovering in the low nineties.  I had just finished up my shift on guard duty and was stretching sore muscles when Doc Ace came up.  I thought he wanted to start a late night poker poker game, or check on me after a bout of heat stroke I’d suffered earlier.  No such luck that night.

“Hey, I wanted to let you know.  It’s a bad thing man.  Alan got hit tonight.  An RPG.  He didn’t make it.”

Doc spoke softly because he knew we’d been friends.  I nodded and mumbled thanks for letting me know.  I remember turning and watching the very last rays of pink disappear over the horizon with the setting sun.  In a moment of pure poetic anguish when the last rays of the sun disappeared the tears of anguish welled and spilled down my dirty face.  They mingled with the dust and sand to create slender streaks of mud, etching into my soul the pain of loss. 

Lance Corporal Alan Lam died on April 22, 2003 in Al Kut, Iraq.  He gave his life for many things:  America, his fellow Marines, you, me, his fiancĂ©e, and his family.  I lost a piece of innocence that day, perhaps the last remaining bit I had left.  Perhaps I thought that we would all make it through unscathed, perhaps I was a fool.  I think about Alan a lot, I miss him.  He lives at Arlington now, and will forever. 

It’s a good place to visit if you’re ever in the neighborhood.  Alan resides just south of York Avenue and a little north of Bradley Drive.  Stop by and say hello to him or anyone else there.  I’m sure they’d like that.  Tell them an old friend sent you and that I’ll come home one day. 

Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful.

Hysterical choices...

I feel a need to apologize for missing my self-imposed deadlines for posting on this blog.  I just didn’t get it done.  I’m sorry.  I shall endeavor to do better in the future. 

Following the death of Zeus, I was depressed, and on top of that had a very nasty cold which insisted on moving into my lungs.  For several days I couldn’t drive and had to be chauffeured by the Sergeant Major.  She was barely recovered from the awful stuff herself, but was very stoic and never once complained.  Sergeant’s Major are tough like that.  Noble too.  They are not to be messed with.

Fortunately, the various of parts of my body are beginning to return to work and I’ve begun to have this sort of hazy idea that maybe I’ll go on living for a while longer yet. 

But as I make my way back, I keep noticing this hysteria which seems to have taken over in some parts of our great country.  I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle must have felt after he woke up under the tree.  What is going on here?  Did I miss some catastrophic event while I was under the weather?

I’ve seen the usual bumblers, braggarts, and con men who set themselves up as players, but nothing catastrophic seems to have occurred.  Still, I keep running across these mad dog, foaming at the mouth crazies who act like the world is really coming to an end this time.

In the old days, we’d call them “harebrained”, or “befuddled”.  My kids just call them “bat shit crazy”.  I like that better.

Hysteria on the farm is always bad news so we don’t go there.  I can remember my Grandfather cautioning me as a child to “quit running around like a chicken with its head cut off!”  He just didn’t see it as acceptable behavior. 

Hysteria in herds can be deadly.  I’ve seen thunderstorms spook horses into hysterical, headlong flight.  If they hit a barbed wire fence though, it ends badly.  Picking up the pieces of that kind of disaster is not fun. 

So why do people go hysterical?  Psychiatrists apparently aren’t really certain, but stress and anxiety seem to play a part.  I think choice plays a part too.  We know from a variety of studies, including Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, that the one thing we have in life is the ability to choose our response to an event.   We may not be able to control Nature or Other People’s behavior, but we can choose our response to it.  We can choose to be responsible, and behave accordingly. 

When I was a kid we thought it was great fun to wait for the teenagers to come down the street on their motorcycles.  We’d wait until they came even with us then jump up and yell, “Shot!” as they went by.  They’d usually turn and chase after us. 

Having been completely irresponsible the moment before, we’d suddenly become somewhat responsible and run like hell to avoid getting our butts beat.  When we did get caught and whupped up on, we’d be fully responsible and tell our Moms, “I fell off my bike”.  There was absolutely no point in letting her know that your irresponsibility was the proximate cause.  It was enough that you understood that yourself.

But fueled by the media’s 24/7 need for “breaking news”, many opt for the hysteria.  Apparently it can be a lot of fun.  In all fairness, there wasn’t a 24/7 media presence back in the 15th and 16th centuries when the hysteria of the time consisted of finding and prosecuting all the “witches”.  Witch trials remained quite popular for at least a couple of hundred years.  It seems there is just something irresistible about losing your mind.      

The common charges against the witches were that they spread diseases, participated in orgies, cannibalized children, and worshiped Satan—pretty much the same charges that Liberals and Conservatives accuse each other of now.

As early as 1841 Charles Mackay wrote a book on hysteria called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.  He noted that, “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they recover their senses slowly, and one by one”. 

So far I have resisted the temptation to join them, but in moments of weakness I have caught myself singing that old song:

"When in trouble, when in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout!”

It aint' Laid Back...

Some days I really hate John Denver.  Today is one of those days.  I hate it when he so glibly sings about life on the farm being “laid back”.  I wonder what farm he was visiting.  He certainly couldn’t have lived and worked on one.  Not a real one anyway. 

I come from a long, pretty much unbroken line of farmers stretching all the way back before the American Revolution.  There’s a teacher here and there, a couple of soldiers, and a preacher or two, but mostly farmers.  Certainly my extended family in the Cherokee Strip were farmers, although my Father’s siblings, and cousins were beginning to head to town to find other things to do.  I suppose they’d had all the “laid back” life they could handle. 

This morning, for example, was a far cry from that laid back fantasy of Denver’s.  My day started before coffee with the digging of a grave.  That’s not an easy task when the land you live on produces primarily rocks.  But with the help of my son we managed to dig deep enough to lay our good friend to rest. 

He was the Sergeant Major’s friend really.  Her very best one.  He was her constant companion both on the farm, and when we’d go camping.  You couldn’t ask for a better friend.  Big.  Friendly.  Loved people.  Loved being with his “Mom”.  And now he was gone.  We don’t really know why he died, but Great Dane’s are prone to a variety of problems I’m told.  We always expected to outlive him, but we never expected that he would be gone today.  I hurt for the Sergeant Major.  It’s difficult watching her heart break. 

It’s not the first time of course.  And I’m well aware that it won’t be the last.  Sometimes the causes are plain and easy to understand.  A mountain lion, which the game warden claimed didn’t exist, killed a llama, two sheep, and almost got a miniature horse.  The horse was a young foal and thanks to some good luck we reached her in time.  I cradled her in my lap and hung on for my own dear life while the Sergeant Major raced the truck back to the barn where we had medical supplies. We saved her, and I took pictures to show the warden the claw marks on her neck.  It would be years before they’d finally admit the cats were there. 

The tough ones are when you don’t know what is happening.  A young foal was normal one day, then died in my arms the next.  I helped the Vet do the autopsy.  Her blood wasn’t liquid; it was crystals—blood crystals clogging her vessels.  He didn’t understand it either and sent samples to the State University.  If they figured it out they never told us.

I’ve honestly forgotten how many good friends are no longer with us.  Some, like the Sergeant Major’s buddies, Zeus and Harley, left us all too soon and all too mysteriously.  Some, like Sheba Dog, and Sheba Horse, lived to a ripe old age.  It still hurt, of course, but there was comfort in knowing that the Circle of Life was complete. 

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not whining.  Yes, I’m sad, and just a tad bit angry.  But I chose this life and am much the better for it.  It keeps me mindful that forces bigger than me are in control.  But there is work to it.  It requires a certain resilience.  There is life and death, and joy and pain. 

“Laid back” it isn’t.  If we’re going to let singers tell us how life goes, then I’m going with Adele on this one, “Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead”.  Sometimes our dear friends last with us for a long time, but sometimes they’re gone without warning—and the hurt is what lasts instead.   

So goodbye Zeus, and Harley, and DiNozzo, and Jethro.  Goodbye Sheba Dog, and Sheba Horse, and Ragtime, and Sister.  Tell Maggie and Tigger and Limkey and Annie we all said “Hi”. 

For now, we’ll continue on much as our people have always done.  We’ll feed the chickens, and the rabbits.  We’ll grain and water the horses.  We’ll put hay in the barn, spray the weeds, and try to keep up with the thousand and one things that have to get done before supper.

And I’ll think about what Mr. Denver sang.  “Laid back”, my ass.

A Classical Education...

Last time I wrote about the difference between what we learned in school “back in the day”, and what seems to be happening in our country today.  I’ve thought some more about it, and have come to the conclusion that when I referred to being educated “back in the Dark Ages before modern history began”, I wasn’t kidding.  I was blessed to have gone to school in a system that could be called “classical”.  Yes.  I think I had a fairly “classical education”.  I was taught with the same methods that Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and John and Abigail Adams would have recognized. 

It’s called “the trivium” and it has three parts:  Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, with each stage, except grammar, being dependent upon those before it.

Grammar begins with “the facts”.  It doesn’t call for opinion, interpretation, or speculation.  “Just the facts, ma’am”, as Joe Friday says in “Dragnet”.  It calls for the student to memorize and repeat bits of information. 

“Two plus two equals four”, says the student.  “Two plus three equals five.  Two plus four equals six.”  At no point does the teacher ask how “Two” feels about being plussed with so many other numbers, nor does she ask the student to speculate as to what “Two” might be feeling about being associated with different integers.  It can’t be easy being “plussed” that much, and “Two” may very well feel embarrassed about it, but the grammar stage is not the time to discuss it.     “Two plus five equals seven” and that’s all there is to it. 

Grammar schools, or as we called them, “elementary” schools, are where this initial learning takes place.  It is a time to gather basic information, absorbing it without evaluation.  It is elementary, to deal with the simplest elements of something.  It is to “begin at the beginning”, which we know from the esteemed philosopher, Maria von Trapp, is “a very good place to start.  A B C, Do Re Mi”.    

Logic comes next.  This is the point where critical thinking begins.  Is it right or wrong?  Is it cause or effect?  What does it mean?  This is where we begin to form our own opinions based on a critical evaluation of the evidence.  The scientific method becomes a useful tool in determining fact from theory.  Question and answer becomes the focus as we begin to draw useful information from raw data. 

Hint:  This can also be a dangerous time as the student begins to question.  “I wonder what would happen if I put an Alka-Seltzer in the aquarium?” can have fatal consequences for the creatures who occupy that aquarium.  (In case you’re wondering, no, it wasn’t me, nor do I know who it was.  All I know is that it happened in the Biology class right before mine.)

Finally, we arrive at rhetoric.  I get to have an opinion and try to persuade you that I am correct. You get to do likewise.  Essays and essay questions become important.  As we develop in this stage we realize that our persuasive efforts are most often, but not always confined to the spoken or written word.  Art and music can also be vehicles for persuasive arguments.  Acceptance and rejection become paramount.  Opinion is internalized to the point that how the student thinks about the subject now causes him or her to alter behavior.  We become the product of our own analysis. 

That is the order of how we were taught.  Elementary school (Grammar), Junior High (Logic), then High School (Rhetoric).  Life, and learning about life, was a progression.  First a foundation was laid.  Then the framework was put up.  Finally, the interior was designed to suit the individual tenant. 

But Classical education is more than just these three pieces.  It also embodies a belief that all knowledge is interrelated.  Chemistry, for example, isn’t just studying chemical reactions, it needs some knowledge of the history of scientific thought to make complete sense.  After all, we learned a lot about what materials react with other materials because certain alchemists were looking for ways to turn lead into gold.  And before that, guys were figuring out that mixing copper and tin made a nice bronze, or that iron with lots of carbon made darn good steel.  And that study leads the student into history.  History is the core around which classicism revolves.   Military history, political history, economic history, and in Western civilization, religious history—the story of the Christian church and the impact of its thought on Chemistry, and Astronomy, and Biology, and Physics, and so on and so on.  All knowledge is related in a classical education, so any serious education system has to include history, science, art, music, and literature. 

Ours had all of that beginning in elementary school where all five of these subjects were required, and continued to be required as we advanced. “Electives” didn’t exist until the last year of Junior High, and weren’t predominant until High School. 

I fear that our deviation from this model—learn the facts, analyze the facts, express your opinion about the facts—is what has led us to today.  We ask first graders how they feel about learning before we teach them how to learn.  We throw logic out into the cold, because “the narrative” is far more hot.  We voice our opinion regardless of whether or not we know anything about the subject.  And we think history started the day we were born, and ends the day we die.

Conformists, Toads, and Snowflakes

I don’t want to stray too far into politics, so for the sake of this post let’s just agree that we’re talking about “Sociology”.  That’s a perfectly respectable topic, even if it’s not a perfectly respectable “Science”.  (I’ll make a note here that my son disagrees.)

What has my attention today started with simple nostalgia.  You know how it works—that longing for an easier, simpler, and sweeter time.  It wasn’t always all of those things of course, but there were moments we can’t forget.

At any rate, once upon a time, way back in the Dark Ages before modern history began, I was a young high school student who enjoyed reading and writing.  So I joined the high school “Creative Writing” club along with a variety of other people.  We’ll call them “creatives” to be nice.

We wrote, and then met to read to each other.  We experimented with thoughts, words, sentences, paragraphs, prose and poems.  We let our imaginations run wild.  I don’t know that we ever deliberately tried to hurt one another, but we (some of us anyway) were certainly guilty of “insensitivity” had there been such a crime in those days.  That there wasn’t is testimony to our resoluteness.  We recognized something that our Fathers called “the way of the world”. 

There is a picture of me with the other members of the club in the yearbook.  I’m wearing a “hoodie” and a somber look on my face as if there were no doubt I’d be the next Jack Kerouac, or Richard Brautigan.  Meanwhile, the teacher who sponsored the club was praying that I would just master “Dick and Jane”.

We called ourselves “Toads”, which we took from a quote by Stephen Crane:

“Think as I think," said a man, "or you are abominably wicked; you are a toad." And after I thought of it, I said, "I will, then, be a toad.”

We were happy being “Toads”.  We liked being “Toads”.  Back then, if you really wanted to insult a person you called them a “Conformist”.  No one wanted to be a “Conformist”. 

I was thinking of this as I watched a news report on students at a university rioting because they didn’t want a speaker who didn’t think like them to be allowed to speak on campus.  What? How does that work?  It’s not possible to be in public with people you only agree with.  And why would you want to be?  The image of all these “Conformists” running for the shelter of their “safe spaces” is a difficult one for me to grasp.  Our “safe space” was where we thought, wrote, argued, and disagreed. And we called each other “Toad”.  And we did it with respect and appreciation.

We had another quaint tradition too.  It was called “debate”.  A moderator would hand you a slip of paper with a resolution on it, telling you which position you would take.  The moderator would then hand another person a slip of paper with the same resolution, but the opposite position on it.  Each of you would then prepare and defend your position.  It mattered not whether you actually agreed with it.  Your job was to determine the best argument for your position.  You were then “judged” on how well you defended your side of the debate.  There was even a “winner”, and a “loser”, a once time honored tradition now limited to sporting events.

Of course, today we don’t “judge”, or “discriminate”, or “discern” either, but that’s probably another post. 

It was considered a good thing to be able to understand the other person’s argument without agreeing with it, or demanding that they quit speaking it.

“Hey man, can you see where I’m coming from?” we’d say.

“Yeah man, I get where you’re coming from.  I’m just not there”, we’d reply.

And it was GOOD!  It was OK!  A best-selling book at that time was titled I’m OK - You’re OK.  Now we’ve arrived at I’m OK - You’re Not So Hot.  Or worse.  That’s not revolution, it’s devolution.  (Sociology remember.  We’re talking about Sociology). 

This seemed normal to us.  I’m sure that’s why when I went on to college I can fondly recall—that nostalgia again—attending speeches by people as diverse as Angela Davis and William F. Buckley, without actually freaking out.  Buckley was, in fact, my commencement speaker.  I shudder to think what that might do to some people today. 

 So what in Heaven’s name is going on here?  Can we get back to that sort of intellectual honesty?  How do we go about doing that?  I don’t know.  I’m just waiting, and hoping that some young and innovative Sociologists can help.