April 25, 2009
I don't know if you've heard, but my Canadian Literature class is a disaster. Our instructor basically gave us free reign to teach ourselves for the entire semester. That might work if he were to just listen in, but he frequently interrupts and chips in with comments that are either off-track or just plain strange. Even that might work if it weren't for the fact that we argue so damn much. I completely and totally disagree with most everything that the instructor (and one other student) says in class. As I'm sure you know, I'm prone to air my disagreements, too (rather than let them "fester"; more on that later).
My friend occupies herself in that class by taking her notes backwards, Leonardo da Vinci style. Another friend doodles. My new pastime for getting through every Wednesday night is to use the discussion in class to contemplate my worldview and just how different it is from the other people in the class.
Sometimes, it's refreshing being around people that are like-minded. I occasionally get a little tingle of joy when I realize, hey, I'm in a room full of atheists. Then, other times, I'm reminded that these people really are not like-minded. Here are some observations about my own worldview that I gleaned from this week's class.
People do not fundamentally change.
I'm not saying that people don't change. Of course they do. I'm also not trying to appeal to some kind of greater human nature; like any good postmodern scholar, I recognize the contingency of life and the socially constructed nature of identity. Rather, I am of the opinion that change is extremely hard for most people. We get into certain ruts and like to stay in those ruts. Even as adolescents, when we are changing most quickly, we fight change as much as possible. Maybe I'm straying too much into the "human nature" camp, but I believe that there are only a few exceptions to this rule.
This issue came up in reference to Sarah Sheard's Almost Japanese, a novel about a young girl from Toronto's obsession with an older Japanese orchestra conductor. Most everyone in the class thought that the narrator of the novel moved on from her stalker phase at the end of the novel. I can see the value in that reading, especially since I think the text wants its readers to read it that way. I couldn't, though, because I fully believe that her obsession, which lasts somewhere around five years, would be extremely hard to shake. I am an optimistic person, but I'm not optimistic that she would make the radical change others seemed so willing to believe.
We are all fucked up in some way or another.
I promise, I really am an optimistic person. This week's class just reaffirmed my view that everyone is fucked up somehow. This, because I discovered that 13-year-old girls are psychopaths who harbor secret obsessions for various famous people. Who knew that it's apparently perfectly normal to keep a lock of hair and a used drinking glass as keepsakes?
We are all deeply sexual creatures, whether or not we want to admit it.
Excluding the few million asexuals in the world, I firmly believe that sexuality is a major part of all our lives and that it informs our movements and actions socially. Apparently others do not entirely buy this. Some of the people in my class talked about their teenage years as if they weren't raging balls of hormones at fourteen. Some of the people in my class talked about the older Japanese orchestra conductor as if his actions in Almost Japanese (or anyone's actions in the book) were somehow divorced from any kind of sexual nature. Yes, sex can be on the periphery at times. Yes, it's rarely purely about sex; power almost always comes along for the ride. But, at least on some level, I believe it's usually about sex. There's some kind of saying out there that all literature is really about love. One could say the same thing for sex, for even when there isn't love, there's always sex.
We are steadily marching towards progress in some kind of Hegelian manner.
I struggle with this notion constantly, but, as I said, I'm an optimist, so I like to believe that humanity's history is fundamentally the history of progress. There are absolutely steps backward. There are times when progress is stalled. Just looking at the history of America, the Jim Crow period post-emancipation completely stalled all progress. But, we slowly have resolved a number of issues over our history as a nation.
Here's where the "festering" comes in. One student made a comment that fascism and bigotry is "more dangerous" when it "goes underground" and "festers." Her argument was that "festering" fascism leads to crazy totalitarian states like the one in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. On some level, this argument makes sense. On another level, it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense (at least to me).
You see, the opposite of festering fascism is outright fascism. It's state-supported bigotry like Jim Crow laws. On this level, I would much, much rather racism be "festering" and "underground" than out in the open and acceptable. Hatred is never more dangerous than when it is an acceptable part of society.
That is the fundamental reason why I see our history as a country as a history of progress. We have had and will continue to have problems—hell, we still treat Native Americans like third-world citizens—but we have mostly made racism, sexism, etc. go underground. I happen to think that's a good thing.
Ignore the inherent racism of this image, please.
I'm sure you've had enough of my poorly-argued-for worldview. I leave you with this thought: next time you're in a situation where it appears that you disagree with almost everyone in the room, whether it be a class or a meeting or something else entirely, don't get angry or defensive. Instead, take the opportunity to ponder your worldview and revel in the fact that, as Whitman would say, you "contain multitudes."
Posted by Evan at 10:00 AM