Sunday, February 2, 2014


Remember your first intellectual, quasi-controversial thought?

Did you voice it?

I do, and I did.

At a fairly early age, I resented being pummeled by celebrity. I don’t exactly know why. But I remember thinking how the given person on television or radio or in print was being forced upon me. I had this inchoate sense of intense hatred toward manipulation.

Politicians very much grated. Again, I really don’t understand why.

A little less than a decade before my birth, the then-President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), was mercifully gunned down in Dallas, Texas. Though I hadn’t ever advocated for anyone’s death, and would not even to this day, his assassination seemed a good, good thing.

At the time, I didn’t think much of the thought.

When a public school teacher I admired claimed JFK as a personal hero, I took the hint and attempted to discover as much as I could about the famed and dashing Camelot protagonist. 

I learned a great deal. 

JFK and his family were prohibition profiteers, compulsive liars, and cheats. And, if that were not enough, his administration had nearly caused the outbreak of World War III (which would have been something akin to a nuclear wiping away of millions of lives, if not human life itself) with a stupid and boorish attack on newly revolutionized Cuba, … only to be foiled by Caribbean peasants. 

What soiled me on the man eternally was his most famous call to state worship, the “Ask not” line. Feh!

Chick boners in the class were on full display. Coed classmates wetted at the JFK image and iconic inaugural speech’s sentence. Male classmates were similarly enthralled, puffing up chests and the like at the thought of JFK’s perverse nationalism.

It did seem the entire world was insane.

The teacher made a weepy and misty-eyed testimonial about JFK’s murder, pointing out how everyone alive during that time remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. 

The teacher asked what might our reaction be if we got wind of a similar announcement today. 

I leaned back in my desk’s chair and let out a very audible, Whew! in obvious relief.    

He zeroed-in on me angrily. His student toadies and sycophants whirled in my direction, eyeing me menacingly.  

I very suddenly became extremely self-conscious.

The teacher seized the opportunity to wax about the gruesome consequences of JFK’s untimely death. JFK’s croaking meant, seemingly, the end of every decent aspect of society. The teacher claimed the Vietnam War would not have happened on JFK’s watch (I hadn’t then the confidence to correct my teacher, as it was the JFK administration who more or less entered the US into the conflict beyond advisory capacity), and that the Civil Rights struggle would’ve gained much more steam under JFK’s helm (a real crock on too many levels), and the whole Nixon Watergate scandal itself would never have happened (the teacher thought the import of Watergate, the lesson to be principally learned, was the people’s loss of trust in presidential power – he considered this a negative).

I remained outwardly silent, but inside my head was racing.

This teacher, a state employee, a cop with a pencil and a credential, was giving his charges a soothing philosophical salve, a balm, a coating. He’d fully purchased the idea of patriotism, whatever that means to anyone, and his version of it meant a duty to lather us in the convenient myths of Solomonic statism. We were to be free at the whim of our leaders, and we needed great leaders. Always someone pulling us by the ear in this or that direction. Great men yanked us this-a-way and that-a-way. All we really needed was better politics, and everything would be swell.

This, I knew to the core of who I was, was a lie.

More than an untruth, it was flat out invention. What might one expect of a state employee in a state institution? At the time, I expected a great deal more (I was young). I was savvy enough to know I didn’t need to be pushed and prodded by anyone. The greatest aspects of my young life were those away from officialdom. Everything I loved was untainted by governmentalism, untouched by elected leadership: technologies, art, philosophy, babes! In fact, it was an inverse relationship – the more bureaucrats and politicians were involved in anything, the less beautiful and interesting life was.

The meaning of social life was algebraic. Solve for X. 

Universal truths could be found, and objective reality exists. ANYONE could discover objective reality (Newtonian laws, for example) and universal truths (mathematical conjectures, for example). Sure, some people are indeed better, smarter than others. That much is always true. But the expression of human happiness projected onto elected leaders was not an answer to any real problem. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.

In my provincial world at the time, I’d discovered another bit of social calculus: a natural aristocracy existed. In the circles of sport, gods sprout. In the sphere of mechanical engineering, we all had a go-to guy. Musical aptitude cultivated in a select few around town. For taste in fashion, it was she. The best was all around us, and all we had to do was let it happen … naturally. We’d learn from one another. No class. No rows of desks. No walls. Stay aware, and you’d gain all you needed to know through cultural osmosis. Or not. It was your choice. Solve for X, man.

At this same time I learned to allow people who considered themselves important to prattle on. There isn’t any point in engaging them, stopping them. Better to let them get it out of their systems, smile like a Japanese tourist in their direction, and wait for escape. I’d later call this the Fuck You SmileTM.

Just smile, smile, smile like Gomer Pyle. Pause for effect. Turn, and leave. POOF. They’re out of your life, at least for a while.

Satisfied I’d been put perfectly back in my place, the teacher and his class jetted to another topic.

I was left to myself again, waiting for the bell to ring and for the real learning to begin.

And I mean it.




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