It has become a cliché that the college experience indoctrinates our children to serve as cogs in the progressive machine; but the truth nowadays is that our entire culture does this job of formatting long before the senior year in high school.
Colleges around the nation have now been in session for about a month. I have noticed this fall, especially, that conservative commentators have been decrying the influence of Ivory Tower propaganda upon impressionable young charges. Far from finding this chorus off key, I could chime in with my own examples of abuse from forty years ago. I might mention a slovenly Teacher’s Assistant who taught Composition at William and Mary: he wore shoes, but never were they sullied by anything so bourgeois as a pair of socks. This New Age evangelist seemed to consider it his solemn duty to stir coeds up against the curfew enforced upon their dorms. It became common knowledge that the dull slattern who secured one of the few A’s in his class got a lot closer to his gritty epidermis than certain articles of his wardrobe.
Morale was not high in that little nook of the Wren Building by the term’s end—but I personally was far more victimized a year later in Austin while occupying the back row of an auditorium. The Socrates who harangued this gathering of two hundred was supposed to be covering the events leading up to the American Revolution; but somehow, as the 1972 election drew near, the loathsomeness of Richard Nixon was his constant theme. Seated toward the rear door, I decided on one of these occasions to slip out very quietly and devote my time to some more intellectual pursuit. I had been pulling an A before that moment; afterward, I never received another passing grade. It was as if, Hugo Chavez-like, the All-Knowing One had appointed monitors to record the movements of every student in class. I did manage to beat the Drop deadline once I felt the crosshairs on my neck. I tested out of an equivalent of that course in the spring with my A restored. Happy ending.
My story’s moral? I might say that academe has been riddled with these self-righteous bigots of the Left for at least two generations now. I might even add some scathing remarks about the bottom-barrel kind of hypocrisy that would egg on young women to be liberated while selling one of them an A for sex, or call down hellfire on Nixon for dominatio capitalis while flunking any student who didn’t accept the tirade with a bowed neck. Progressive intellectualism accommodates a lot of human garbage. It’s a surefire filter for arrogant punks whose invincible narcissism allows them to make things up, to double back, to bully, to taunt, to misrepresent, to slander, and to intimidate without flinching. Many of this bunch, if they had the guts, would make ideal mass-murderers. As it is, their invertebracy allows them only to assassinate with words and behind the back while sporting the latest Che-embroidered haberdashery.
So I take no exception to the claim of John Hawkins, Walter Williams, and many other worthies that the professoriate should be made to justify its conduct before the citizens who pay its salary. Yet I do believe that the magnitude of the crime is somewhat overstated these days. Maybe colleges would have been the place to look for the roots of anomia, Pyrrhonism, and treason forty years ago… but my one-time classmates have now themselves ascended to top positions in high schools, in the ministry, in the entertainment world, and even in the all-flattering domain of the marketer; and it is from such sources as these that our children imbibe progressive pabulum long before they enter the halls of ivy.
Starting in the higher levels of grade school, children are saturated with innuendo and outright hero-cultism that promote the progressive worldview. Even teachers whose personal inclination is conservative can scarcely resist, year after year, the sly serenading of required textbooks. In History class, women inspire encomiastic pages for stitching flags together or for penning anti-slavery pamphlets; men who merely risked or gave their lives in the bloody work of combating despotism are best minimized, since they probably would have killed each other playing with guns even in peacetime. Harriet Beecher Stowe, by the way—the anti-slavery saint—publicly and repeatedly dismissed the rumors of atrocities during the Highland Clearances as “absurd”, explaining that “the advancing progress of civilization began to make it necessary to change the estates [comprising the clansmen’s crofts] from military to agricultural establishments” (see Alexander Mackenzie’s History of the Highland Clearances). Stowe settled upon her conclusions after a European jaunt in well-to-do company… but you’ll find no taint upon her objectivity and competence, much less her sainthood, in any mass-marketed text.
Not that ethnic cleansing is a subject too delicate for such tomes: textbooks teach that plight of Native Americans at the hands of the White Man was the American Holocaust (even though settled tribes here in Texas often fled to the Europeans for protection from the Comanche). And yet, the raping, torturing, and murdering committed by the British and their mercenary agents against “rebel” colonists pass unmentioned. The progressive spirit bloweth where it listeth. Lincoln is the Moses of the history-book Bible, and FDR is the Messiah (or perhaps John the Baptist, now that the true Messiah has arrived); not one word is ever printed about the cynicism behind the Emancipation Proclamation or the provocative rejection of Japanese peace overtures in the late thirties. How can a well-disposed and informed pedant stand alone against this textbook tsunami?
Especially in high school, English teachers seem to grab the progressive baton and run with it. Some are outspoken zealots, like the little firebrand who taught my son the full gamut of reasons for legalizing (and using) marijuana. Most are merely plugging along through the thirty-fifth annual teaching of To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies; and while these books undoubtedly have instructive messages, the surest way to write an A essay about them is to stick with the clichés. Race issues always break down Manichaean-like into a battle of sadistic Neanderthals versus gleaming crusaders. Violence and wars occur for no better reason than that men are overgrown boys who like to throw stones and sharpen sticks. The recent nestling of Multicultural Day into the high school curriculum furthers the same facile “good guys/bad guys” analysis of complex questions. We can either “embrace otherness”, or we can act like blockheaded bigots and assume that our way is the best way. No awareness of the screaming contradiction within the very word “multicultural” (i.e., that no value can be credibly taught to child by parent if it is simply an “alternative”) is encouraged or even tolerated. Students, furthermore, emerge with the fuzzy notion that race is equivalent to culture. My own experience has informed me that very nearly 100% of entering college freshmen believe the two to be an identity: e.g., that a black person partakes of something called “black culture”.
As for ministers, how can I begin to express my distress over their degradation of the faith? The Christian is supposed to be charitable, yes; he is supposed to be attached to things of the other world rather than things of this world, yes; he is supposed to be forthright and fearless in his opposition to injustice, yes. But how does all of this add up to the progressive project of massive handouts and forcible redistribution of wealth? No one in our society is starving unless from sheer ignorance of basic nutrition. The correlation between obesity and low income is in fact a direct one. The poor (and they are the “comparative poor”, for in most parts of the world their present state would represent luxury unknown to elite tribal leaders) are, thanks to our ministers, the “designated sufferers” of an affluent society. They devour our largesse in return for bestowing upon us a “holier than thou” fix that blunts genuine conscience. The typical fix lasts us until the plate is passed again a week later—but a whopping great check may buy us a glow that shines for a year (and is also tax-deductible). We would be lost if our precious poor were suddenly not so poor—or if we were suddenly made to see that they are not now so. Our impoverished egotism craves them the way a true pauper craves a crust of bread.
We may thank our ministers for pounding this kerygma so deeply into our children. Rather than teach the young in spirit that wealth lies not in material possessions, the contemporary minister teaches that others need our precious possessions, too—that possessions are the most important thing going. Rather than teaching that serenity and dignity arise from abstinence and self-control, the new lesson is that they come from having enough stuff and being viewed by others as having enough stuff. Epictetus was closer to Christ than these simpering utopian footsoldiers when he observed that what is required of man is not more acquisition, but a new definition of poverty.
I believe the behavior of the American electorate in recent years to be virtually inexplicable without reference to this caricature of Christian charity. The vast, hard-working middle class would never have endorsed the welfare state in steadily increased doses if the Church had not implicitly been cheering on the legalized plundering of individual resources. What great art might have been underwritten if private wealth had not been siphoned off to fund Virgins painted in cow dung? What creative schools for the truly underprivileged might have been financed if philanthropists had not been pillaged to enrich teachers’ unions? What soup kitchens and locally tailored ministries serving genuine need might have been launched with the energies diverted by ecclesiastical hierarchies into lobbying for open borders or for gun control?
Like the history professor who spotted my discreet flight from his Watergate jeremiad, these self-styled servants of God can’t stop their blustering and posturing long enough to yield center-stage to honest moral scrutiny. The show’s all about them—about their superior conscience; and, thanks to their self-indulgence, we have a generation of equally ostentatious, self-absorbed, and strident disciples of zero-tolerance, non-optional “charity”.
I have neither the space nor the need to explore the entertainment industry; but of marketing I may point out that, though presumably serving private-sector interests, it has turned so “Hollywood/PC” that no gap any longer separates it from Tinsel Town. Oil companies advertise as if their reason for being were to save the environment. Fast food chains stress the healthiness of their latest combo. A jauntily scored Prius ad looks as though the art work on a hippie van had sprung to life (and revives—with what charm!—the National Socialist dream of a car in every garage: “A Prius for everyone!”). Major sports have designated days when all their participants are decked out in pink for “breast cancer awareness” (unaware, apparently, that certain male cancers are more often fatal). Of baseball, I would say in particular (since my son plays the game at a high level, and I follow it) that the annual Jackie Robinson Day ritual has now grown a bit suspect to me. I myself wrote a piece in honor of the occasion this past spring—but now I’m contemplating a different kind of piece that has nothing directly to do with Jackie. It has to do, rather, with the “lest we forget” mentality. We must commemorate desegregation, runs the message, because if we don’t, Jim Crow laws will pop up on the books again. We must commemorate the Holocaust, goes the same thinking, because death camps will open their doors in Kansas and Nebraska as soon as those memories dim.
We have once more arrived at Manichaeanism—the heresy to which progressivism is perhaps closest kin. The notion that humanity divides neatly into good guys and bad guys must fuel every speech delivered by a Democratic candidate for the past thirty or forty years (since my college days, more or less). Really, what appalling pessimism—and what arrogance, to extend that pessimism only to the motives of human beings with whom one happens to disagree! If we Houyhnhnms don’t warn our children regularly about segregation, the Yahoos hidden among us will start lynching again. If we don’t show the youngsters newsreels in grade school about Auschwitz, they may be traduced by FOX News into Nazism. Teaching them basic morality and common humanity isn’t the way to guard against such degeneration—no: the young must be apprised, instead, that zombies and vampires, also known as conservatives, walk among us all, scarcely discernable for now, just waiting for a chance to resume their unholy feast. Remember! Be on high alert! Attend your commune’s “awareness” days!
And this, brothers and sisters, is just a small sampling of the mush poured daily through the skulls of our children long before they ever apply to a college. The truth is that the conservative professor’s greatest challenge isn’t all the rabid progressives that surround him on the faculty: it’s the know-it-all brat progressives that immerse him as entering freshmen.