Sunday, October 28, 2018


"It’s not what having a college degree does for you. It’s what *not* having a college degree does to you. Without one, you spend extra time thinking about what people with one have that you don’t: the keys to some fabulous kingdom. It messes with your mind."  Virginia Heffernan

In this essay Virginia Heffernan #page88 analyzes Trump's major character distortion through the facts of his TV show, "The Apprentice."  In this way she manages to sidestep something deeper: the yearning of the crook to be legitimate without know what "legitimate" means.  Trump longs to be a "genius," so he simply announces that he is one.  And all the other folks out there who think that someone "smart" is getting ahead of them through college leverage comes right along, waving their tiki torches.

They figure it is because those Others are Jewish, which means to them scholarly, rich, and possessing arcane semi-magical formulas.  It's an old European obsession which is why it is centered on whiteness.  These same guys don't take on Asians because they can't figure out tech stuff so it's too scary.  They're afraid to take on the big dark powerful people of Africa without a gun, so they say to each other that dark means dumb.  And they still haven't figured out that indigenous people are real, not just in movies.

Heffernan's excellent analysis of our current national hate obsessions is worth reading, esp. if you live in a relatively rural place rather than a major city.  For the generation that was raising a family after WWII, possibly while trying to escape the hard labor of ranching or farming, exclusion from national dialogue, and awareness of the idea that some people had found the key to success, which is a protection against all bad things -- for that generation college was the answer.  Not only could a person gain entry to a "profession" which would mean status and high income, but also girls could find there the kind of man they ought to marry, because if you marry a success and raise his children, you've succeeded as yourself.

This is the pattern of my cousins.  It's not mine.  Theirs has worked out variously but mine has worked out in a way that scares them.  Late in life I inherited enough money to write full time.  It wasn't much but it was enough, because I had a kind of education that my cousins cannot "get."  Maybe their children will be able to when they are older.  I don't know how many have gone to college or what kind of college it was.  I don't know that whole generation.

Most people think of college as state universities and those are fine, predictable and respectable.  Junior colleges and others of the sort concentrate on parts rather than the whole.  Being an auto-didact, one who educates himself, is very rewarding, but helped very much by the kind of broad liberal view of the world that sorts it for absorption.  These kinds of education are not likely to provide it.

Much is being made of "legacy" students at high prestige schools where admissions give privilege to the children of previous students or children of rich people who give the school a lot of money.  A feedback loop develops that creates a class of people in a closed world, considering themselves elite and fulfilling that with power.  Yesterday a student of Northwestern University, my undergrad alma mater, where I received with gratitude a particular kind of education, called.  What I learned was humanities-based, centered on method acting, and asked always, "What would it be like to be the person before me? How would I see the world?"  The goal was to understand from the "spine" a person -- or even an animal -- so authentically that an audience could grasp who they were.

The teacher who gave us this view was not appreciated.  The caller wanted me to say wonderful things about what a success I was because of NU.  First, he would not consider me a success.  By his accent, he was Asian, probably the first generation born in the US.  In what I suspect has a Confucian origin, the idea of success is to make money and honor one's family.  My estranged poverty would appall him.  When I began to talk about how NU has sold out to international corporations and how what remained of the theatre department I so loved was now pandering to places like Qatar for the sake of money, he announced he would call back at a better time.  

I don't know how to tell him about the reframed world that is the result of the other kind of education I got across town at the U of Chicago.  I was far from being a legacy student and could not quite understand what some of these people were saying.  Many were old men, just leaving after a lifetime of exploration.  They themselves were having to work hard to understand the new vision of the world provided by a science that could read the cosmos, trace history through geology written in stone before there was life, accept the many hominin versions before life got to the current version, and discern how language can tear our complacency apart.  Only now that the world begins another cycle of war/domination can we appreciate that this new way of thinking might be a way out of starving children and destroying homes.  Not just us, but also "them".

We need to challenge the obstinate persistence of universities that have abandoned their original purpose, which is hard when the Trumpians never knew what the original purpose was anyway.  They see education only as named buildings, endowments, and privileged access to sin, though their idea of sin is fraternity-based -- drinking, abusing women, violence of many kinds but not as soldiers. 

So Heffernan has correctly and simply identified Trump's obsession without saying anything about mafia, which was how his father made the millions that Trump has spent his life wasting and losing through bad decisions.  Now the family name is being pried off the buildings he never really owned anyway.

College educations got a lot of American people off the farm and out of the small towns.  So there they all are now, crowded into mega-cities with gig economies instead of careers, wondering what it would be like to live like the lilies, quietly at grandpa's and grandma's out in the country.  We knew what country was then.

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