Sunday, April 20, 2008

GayProf Loses His Zen

The semester is rapidly coming to an end. The one good thing about returning to work so early in January is that I had my last final April 17. Now it is just the grading.

Of course, the end also means that I have been (even more) crazy busy over the past few weeks. If I have to attend one more meeting, I might be sentenced to Arkham Asylum. Seriously, if you see GayProf in unflattering clown makeup, head in the other direction.

I think that I underestimated my frazzled nerves until I lost my shit late last week. Normally it takes a great deal for me to lose my temper. Most times I construe anger as a waste of emotion. Trying to cross the street, however, sent me over the edge.

You see, Big Midwestern University merges entirely with Midwestern Funky Town. Major streets bisect the campus. At least one of these roads clearly has too much pedestrian traffic competing with motor traffic. In my mind, it should be closed to cars altogether.

Nobody, alas, has decided to make me a city planner. As a result, I have to play full-scale Frogger to get to my office in the morning. Students drive too fast and refuse to stop at crosswalks (though motorists are legally required to yield to pedestrians or face a $130 fine (I looked it up)).

Most of the time I am merely frustrated by drivers’ lack of civility. Last week went beyond the pale. Some student, driving an oversized gas-guzzler, literally refused to stop at the cross walk that was filled with people. He forced all of us who were already in the middle of the road to get out of his way or be run over. Then he had the nerve to flip us off for being in his way. I might have responded with a less than scholarly vocabulary or intonation.

Being prone to hyperbole, I immediately concluded that he represented everything that was wrong with the United States. Our selfish emphasis on the “individual” encourages Americans to think that they are right all the time, even when they are clearly wrong. Both as individuals and as a nation, we are loathe to consider that our particular needs might not be the most important.

This doesn’t just come out through incidents of near vehicular manslaughter. Take, for example, the tempest that surrounded an Absolut Vodka advertisement. To peddle their booze, the company capitalized on a utopian vision of the world where U.S. imperialism had been checked in the nineteenth century. Though the ad never circulated in the U.S., Absolut was flooded with irate mail from U.S. citizens. One angry writer noted that he had poured all his vodka down the drain (N.B. to protesters: Companies don’t suffer if you dispose of a product after you already paid for it. Whether or not you actually consume your purchase is fairly immaterial to them as long as they got their money in the first place).

Angry letter writers couldn’t entertain the idea that the U.S. might have been wrong to wage war on a neighboring republic for no other reason than an ambition for territory. They were also clearly unprepared to consider that there is a residual anger and resentment towards the United States for that war (which deprived Mexico of half of its territory, left it bankrupt, and opened the door for future invasions from other nations).

Don’t get me wrong. I am not endorsing the ad per se. After all, Absolut created it as a crass capitalistic attempt to profit from Mexico's legitimate frustration with U.S. imperialism. Rather, I am concerned that many (most?) people in this nation are unable or unwilling to admit that the nation’s history is filled with immoral decisions that we should regret. The fact that an ad for a mid-tier vodka can call the nation out on its hubris should concern us.

It is much the same thinking that resulted in the criticism of Barack Obama last weekend. He only spoke the truth (however imperfectly that he delivered it). The white working class has been voting against their own economic interests since the 1980s. Republicans have depended upon messages of fear (You need guns, and lots of them) and hatred (Gays will destroy civilization as we know it. Mexicans are our enemy.). Obama probably didn’t realize that it was a secret that the Republican party had been using the religious right to satisfy their own agendas.

Much of the response to Obama’s comments have centered around his supposed audacity to suggest that these voters were wrong and had the wrong priorities. Indeed, both Clinton and McCain suggested that Obama was “out of touch.”

To my mind, it is the U.S. voters who have been out of touch. From human rights, economics, and environmentalism, the U.S. has been on the wrong side of every issue for the past seven years. This isn’t just the fault of the Bush administration, either. Though only 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume 25 percent of its natural resources. How has the U.S. population responded in the face of both an economic and environmental melt down? Shockingly, U.S. citizens have decided that we should have a baby boom. It was something that I had suspected based on first-hand anecdotes, but was confirmed this past fall with statistics. Yes, the U.S. is totally out of step with every other industrial nation. Just how selfish are we? How depraved have we become that we think nothing of compounding the world's overpopulation? Is there any discussion about population control (beyond this blog)? Is anybody willing to entertain the notion that having more than one child is an immoral and selfish decision?

The election of either Obama or Clinton will not magically solve the problems facing this nation. The best that we could hope for from either is that they will not actively impede the reshaping of our society.

Instead of celebrating the cult of personality around these two figures, we need to alter the conversation in this nation. Rather than a nation driven by self-centered individualism, we need to start thinking as a community. We need to take seriously the responsibilities of citizenship, not just the rights of citizenship. We also have to be willing to acknowledge that just because we made a decision doesn't mean that it was the right one. Don’t run me over, man.


csdenton said...

It's kind of depressing seeing how American anti-intellectualism and imperialism have coalesced into a big blob of, for lack of a better word, OMGWTF? Other imperial polities (that I'm aware of) encouraged their populations to act in a cultured, "superior" manner: the Romans encouraged each other to dedicate themselves to philosophy and rhetoric; the Islamic elite of Al-Andalus patroned scientists and artists alike; and the British at least feigned a benevolent interest in the cultures they were stepping on and dismantling. With Americans, at least under certain viewpoints, it's as if the more self-absorbed we act and the less curiosity we show about ourselves and the world around us, the better we are. It's almost insane.

pacalaga said...

Um, but Gayprof, the US and all its (white male middle class Christian) citizens are ordained by God himself to rule the world, use up all the best resources whilst making the "little people" feel "grateful" that left any for them in the first place, and to wage verbal (and physical) jihad on anyone who dares suggest it's not so.

Mel said...

But what's wrong with having more babies. Can't I just buy a bigger Hummer to fit 'em all into?

I think that things are unlikely to change in this country until they reach the point of irreversible crisis. Then it'll be sink or swim, and I'm not entirely certain we'll have the ability to pull together collectively to keep the nation from falling apart.

CoffeeDog said...

I agree with all that you've pointed out here. Obama was right when he said that about people clinging, but I am a Hillary fan so I rejoiced in his gaff :-)

Anonymous said...

For the population boom we can at least partially blame the misguided policies of the Bush Administration which has mandated that abstinence-only sex education be the norm in federally funded programs. Not that you'd ever catch one of those smug white right-wing so-called Christians actually adopting an unwanted child of an unmarried mother. They would rather the mother starve and the child die young from lack of medical access, proper nutrition, or any number of other factors, so that they can point and say the wages of sin is death, etc. I am surrounded in my own working-class neighborhood by twelve and thirteen year olds who think it would be so neat to have a baby because they're just like little dolls -- you can play with them for hours, and then give them back to your own mother or grandmother to raise. Condoms? The pill? Hah! (A) They're too young and (B) they haven't been taught about either option. And abortion costs immediate money, as opposed to the long-term money required to rear a child.

tornwordo said...

I would have made the same hyperbolic leap. This reminded me of a recent notice in my facebook inbox that a relative of mine had added a bumper sticker. It read, The Democratic Party, Brave enough to kill babies but not Islamic terrorists. The relative is 17, sigh.

vuboq said...

Bill McKibben's book "Maybe One" about limiting families to one child is required reading in my evironmental policy program (or at least it was when I attended). It's an interesting read.


vuboq said...

ps. I hope you find your zen.

Antonio said...

What a jackass the guy at the crosswalk is! I would've gotten his license plate number and contacted campus security. He may not have been reprimanded, but it might get something done about the jerks being inconsiderate. We had similar problems at my university until the cops cracked down.

Alan said...

If you start paying close attention, Gayprof, you might find that most of the really bad drivers in MWFT are from NY. That's been my experience anyway. They're rich generally rich kids driving Daddy's car and couldn't care less about anyone else.

We hates them don't we, precious? :)

(Note I'm not making the sweeping generalization that all NY drivers are terrible; just that they're worse than MI drivers.) :)

Earl Cootie said...

I'm with Mel. I don't think we'll change until it's too late. (It could already be too late, actually. I believe the water wars will be coming much sooner than expected.) We need a real leader, a leader who's not only really willing to challenge the status quo but who can rally the people enough to overcome the barriers erected by the corporate masters, Dominionists, the Gilded Party, and our lazy, elitist media professionals who enable them all.

Anonymous said...

What I love about college towns is how the students are simultaneously the worst, most aggressive drivers, and the worst, most aggresive pedestrians. Whether they're behind the wheel or in the crosswalk, they think they're completely entitled to drive/cross wherever and whenever they like.

What is it about pedestrians and their rights that bring out the worst in drivers? One time crossing one of the busy streets that slice up the Mall in Washington, D.C., I was called a "f'ing n--ger b*tch" by some middle-aged white dude with his wife riding shotgun, for the crime of knocking politely on the hood of his car as it almost rolled over my feet, and saying, "Walk Light!" I guess I was just too uppity, and had to be put in my place with sexuality, racial, and gendered insults. The trifecta! (Historiann is about as white as a slice of Wonderbread with the crusts cut off. Interesting how the racial insult was just pre-mixed in-between "f'ing" and "b*tch," isn't it?)

Marius said...

I'm with Coffeedog: Hillary for President! Also, you need a break, Gayprof. Hm . . . I think we should send you off to Puerto Vallarta. You can spend some quality time with the locals. And by locals I'm referring to Aaron Diaz:

Roger Owen Green said...

I was writing this unusually lengthy response to your blog when the comment post went haywire. Suffice to say, I agrre with it all, including the one-baby thing. Having children involves optimism, and I have far less of it than I did four or five years ago.

GayProf said...

Chad: It is interesting that the U.S. seems to be hostile to the creation of new knowledge. That usually is a luxury of empire.

Pacalaga: Damn -- I keep forgetting. Me and my foolish notions of social justice.

Mel: Given the value of the U.S. dollar today, I would say that the answer will be "sink."

CoffeeDog: I was disappointed that Clinton felt the need to play the same cards as McCain around the comment (rather than redirecting discussion to how wrong voters were in 2004).

Calpete: It's true that the Bush administration's refusal to provide real education about birth control and safe-sex practices is partially to blame. I am leery, though, about overstating the role of teenagers in the current boom. The white middle class in this nation has a long history of pointing to the poor, especially racial minorities, as the supposed "problem" while they continue to have tons of children in suburbia.

Torn: 17 and in California? It's too sad to contemplate.

VUBOQ: I think my zen might be lost under my bed. I'll check next time I vacuum.

Antonio: I thought about contacting the police. In the fall, I think that I will send a general request that the police start enforcing the laws about cross walks (given the semester is out, it seems moot to do it now).

Alan: I haven't noticed a regional slant to it. I would say, though, that entitlement and youth make a hazardous combination on the road.

Earl: Don't even get me started (again) on the massive growth in the desert sections of our nation. Las Vegas? Phoenix? Are we just that insane?

HisoriAnn: Maybe it is because you were so clearly white that he felt at liberty to use his cherished racist language.

Whether they're behind the wheel or in the crosswalk, they think they're completely entitled to drive/cross wherever and whenever they like.

Perhaps this is true; however, I think that walking is a basic human right. Driving is a privilege. So, I will always side with the peds.

Marius: Send checks to "GayProf's Puerto Vallarta Fund."

ROG: Things do seem really grim. I wonder how many people are feeling it?

gwoertendyke said...

1) i haven't been blogging or reading blogs in awhile but thankfully, you're still here;

2) the other day i walked across campus in one of those car/ped areas and listened to huey lewis and news (i think, cheesy, late 80s early 90s) from a college kid's convertable--???

3) i don't think that having a position on clinton vs. obama means you've bought into the cult of personality--their policy differences remain (in theory anyway) small, but political strategy can't be collapsed into personality, or shouldn't, anyway.

4) i agree: peds ALWAYS win out over drivers.

happy grading and end of meetings.

Greg said...

Oh, what a great f*cking post! I'm totally with you in that crosswalk...driving's a privilege and a responsibility.

I also applaud your suggesting (seemed to me, anyway), that we as a nation of people have to start taking some more responsibility for the way things are and not just blaming the convenient scapegoat presidiot (which isn't to say there isn't PLENTY he'll need to account for someday).

Somehow, we've become a nation of entitled, imperialist ostriches, with our heads buried deep in the sands, unable to see the snare closing in around us.

Grim? You betcha. (Hey, did you feel the earthquake in MWFT?)

GayProf said...

Adjunct Whore: Rumors of my blog death have been greatly exaggerated.

Greg: I felt nothing. The earth is going to have to try a little harder to shake us off of it.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but think of Hillary when you stated "...we need to start thinking as a community..." "It takes a village" came to mind.

I don't think I would be willing to entertain the notion that having more than one child is immoral, but I would be willing to entertain that having more than two cars in a household is selfish. That would definitely free up the streets and crosswalks. So many old subdivisions have one-car garages and you have families that live in them with 2, 3, maybe 4 cars. Egads!

Anonymous said...

Did you get a license plate number? We need to find out where that douchebag lives. I have some ideas.