“How I Culturally Squelched Your Individuality and Autonomy From the Day I Wiped Your Ass Just So You Would Not Question My Notions”

Amanda Ripley, author and Time magazine journalist, wrote a more than mildly interesting book entitled, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way

Perturbed by the erratic and non-congruent educational vs. cultural dissonance she witnessed between the United States and other flourishing “educacracies” in South Korea, Finland and Poland, she embarked on a small scale international lab experiment involving 3 foreign exchange students from the United States as they acculturated into the vast unknown outposts of schooling in those three countries. She excavated many insightful observations about the cultural idiosyncrasies peculiar to the broad cultural phenomena that manifested in the evolution of “smart kids.”

Jeff Schechtman, at his eponymous “Specific Gravity” blog, posted a great interview he conducted with Amanda Ripley in which she detailed her experiences and impressions following her scholarly investigations.

Amanda Ripley interview with Jeff Schectman

As a parent with a son in his Junior year, I thoroughly identify with much of this subject matter.

Ultimately, success in school can be whittled down to one word: caring.

Obviously, caring by itself isn’t always enough. There is aptitude and innate intelligence, qualities educators shy away from because education prides itself on being the democratic refuge of the neglected. Ripley mentions the concept of “social mobility” which is great, but I believe is a concept that cheaply lends itself to blind egalitarianism which is simply never the convenient case. At the 23:00 mark, Ripley touches on some observational genius in which she implies that life is cruel (my words entirely) and that the sooner we teach our children this notion, the sooner they will be able to fend for themselves. She imprints the high school sports “template” (a bit bitterly, I thought!) onto the educational blueprint and alleges that if kids worked as hard in academic classes as their athletic counterparts are expected to (after school practices, etc), grades would improve. I agree with this completely. In America, we seem to have to no problem requiring that extra step, or 10, to excel on the gridiron, but we shy away from such demands in the classroom.

The takeaway from the interview is that high schoolers must integrate school as their calling, at least for the time they are involved. School must take priority and furthermore, there are no other options to success. This is the tricky part. As the economy has faltered and the realization that college education is not the dependable key to prosperity it once was, the question lingers for high school students. Is all this trouble worth it? In fact, American children are more prone to question the justification for education more than ever.

“Maybe my idea of success has nothing to do with yours.”

How does one dispel this notion when the your garden-variety MBA is entrusted with using his “intelligence” to circumvent honor and respect?

The title of Ripley’s book should perhaps be “How I Culturally Squelched Your Individuality and Autonomy From the Day I Wiped Your Ass Just So You Would Not Question My Notions.”

One of the few times I fold up my Libertarian wings…

I like to think (fantasize) I’m a hardcore, unrelenting, and thoroughly unapologetic Libertarian, but there are moments where I bend just a little and my meddlesome instincts dwarf even others. One such “nanny-state” inclination of mine concerns the operation of motor vehicles on the roadway. There’s a proposed law being batted about the New Jersey Assembly that would make it illegal for drivers to engage in any activity unrelated to the operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle. (h/t, Right View from the Left Coast)

This is only proposed legislation and it has been written sufficiently vague so as to leave final determination of “unrelated” to the police officer’s discretion. Naturally, Libertarian and small-government Conservative types are eating this up and bellowing, perhaps with good reason. On the surface, I rebel at this sort of intrusive governmental (and especially, law enforcement) meddling as well, but I believe that in the domain of motor vehicle operation, it is better that we err on the side of governmental intrusion. As most DMVs have pounded down our throats since we were 16, driving is a privilege, not a right. Essentially, we have the right, as private citizens, to bear arms, but we do not have a Constitutional right to drive carriages (motorized or not). Driving a car is the closest most of us will come to wielding a deadly weapon within the intimate adjacency to others. Yet most of us do not take such an awesome role seriously. You can drive 50,000 miles without an accident and easily get complacent and think you can and should be able to do anything behind the wheel, until that day someone runs a red light and T-bones your ass into oblivion. What then? Our obligation to be mindful at all times behind the wheel is a collective web of interdependency and trust. Driving a car is a singular potentially deadly act that is not addressed by our Bill of Rights due to its relatively modern emergence. Furthermore, any lawmaker attempting to amend the Constitution for the sake of automobile operation would be a historical laughing stock.

Driving cars on the motorway, unlike eating at McDonald’s 7 times per week or getting married to your homo lover, is an implicit and direct threat to the lives of others than depends entirely on your attention and ability to put off those important personal chores until you land your car.

Those who scoff at vehicular Big Brotherism argue that we all engage in such activities (their favorite is changing CDs), and they have a point, but a very insignificant one. As much as I detest depending on cops to determine law, that minor tweak addresses the vague institution of the law. Frankly, if they want the law to be fair, it should be stated as “time eyes spent away from windshield divided by speed squared by crosswalk” or some stupid bullshit, unworkable formula like that. No one should be changing a CD while driving just as no one should be eating or texting. Anything that requires you to take your eyes off the road for more than 25-50 feet of travel distance is a no-no. Use your head. Which perhaps is my hesitation with nannyism in this regard. Enforcement of stupid laws precludes self-education and self-awareness. People are simply stupid, really stupid, behind the wheel. They are complacent and unrealistic and have this masterview of the Interstate universe where they truly believe nothing bad can ever happen to them or someone they love. Even though you can do everything while you’re driving (as you boast), you are also assuming others share this wonderful faculty. I have news for you. They don’t. Walk around the mall or Walmart on a weekend afternoon. That is the same mental detritus you are entrusting your life to on the road.

Eat when you get home.
Text when you get home.

Driving is an absorbing and dangerous task but no one seems to want to treat it that way. I really despise distraction and “unmindfulness,” qualities which modern society seems to gloat in. Everything is rush, rush, rush. Do this, do that, do everything, NOW, but do it all poorly and weakly. We live in an age of imperfection of spirit and mind and driving is now the newest manifestation of this inability to master your reality. At least younger kids are realizing this, apparently, because they are choosing not to drive in growing numbers.

Driving a car is a lot of work and people are simply not up to it. For once, the government must step in.

All I wanted was squid, but the loud Koreans!

Last night I had my birthday dinner at a Korean restaurant in Orange County. It was BBQ style and raw meat was brought to our table in addition to the usual Korean openers (banchan) which included kimchi, bean sprouts, marinated onions and radish, among others. It was sumptuous and I was starved when we first entered. I haven’t had Korean food in a very long time and I was looking forward to this. The “all you can eat, but within limits” special included a choice of 4 dishes. We (me really, my birthday after all) chose spicy marinated pork, thinly-sliced non-marinated beef (chadolbegi), a warm glass noodle and vegetable dish, and my favorite, ojinguh bokkeum, squid in a spicy red sauce with green onions and carrots. My dinner partner shied away from this. It’s something I’ve enjoyed ever since my ex-wife introduced me to Korean food years ago. The raw meat was brought to our table and we were left to toss it on the table-top barbecue. I started eating up quickly. But slowly I become uncomfortable and overwhelmed. The restaurant was, it turned out, a youthful meeting, conversation spot. Very Korean. Korean trendy kids and loud electronic music, sounded a little jungle, a little drum & bass, shit, I couldn’t tell, I’m so far out of the loop, I don’t know what is what anymore. The music had a rapid beat and everyone was dressed like this was a club and people were yelling and talking loudly and the music was loud and there were lots of people, too many of them, and none of them would shut up. I started feeling overwhelmed and my appetite hit a wall.

See, I cannot eat comfortably when it is loud and crowded. Too much visual and auditory input freaks me out. In fact, what happens, just because I’m that mentally imbalanced, is that the noise begins to arouse a sense of phobia in me and I get nervous and antsy and feel as if I’ve lost all ability to swallow my food and I feel like I’m going to ralph it all up. I lose touch with my environment and I don’t feel like eating anymore and I wish it would be quiet. I find I try to tune out the noise but at the expense of my participation in my surroundings and I turn taciturn and less than participatory. So much noise! Panic starts to set in and I spend so much mentally energy fighting it that I turn into a mess. I started out ablaze, but by the time the noise started to whittle away at my psyche, I felt afraid to put food in my mouth because I feared I might not be able to swallow it, and if I did, I feared I might vomit it up. My stomach becomes rebellious and disconnected from my conscious control. I feel not nauseous, but out of digestive control and the noise and presence of too many people devours my serenity. I lose my ability to enjoy food. In the absence of serenity, I find I must figuratively flee. Luckily, my dinner partner shares some of my loud aversion (not to my degree), so we finished up and left hurriedly to the quiet surroundings outside. It was a cool night and I breathed the fresh air, the open quiet air, and I wished I had more food now as my appetite began to slowly return. I wanted more squid!

This happened recently to me, also in Orange County, when I went to a Peruvian restaurant. Once again, I was hungry and looking forward to that lomo saltado, one of my favorite damn things in the world, but the restaurant was small, crowded and loud. Very loud. My appetite died instantly and I could not enjoy the meal. I eat best when it’s quiet, when there are a handful of people. When there is no Goddamned music and people shouting to be heard!

I don’t enjoy culinary “scenes,” man.

I just want to eat peacefully and have subdued conversation.

Sometimes during lunch in Hollywood, I find it’s too loud. Invariably there will be a loud, shrill bitch somewhere in the room who cannot speak like a normal human being. This shit kills my appetite.

I told my friend that if I had to eat in crowded and loud restaurants every day, I would lose weight. Sure fire diet plan.

I’m a “blogger” and I owe you nothing, but I owe you everything.

Earlier this year I posted about a news incident/occurrence which was covered by news stations. I included the photograph of a witness/spectator and cited their name and quotation. The person I showed in that blog post was not the story, but a bystander.

A few months later I received an email from this person (I had no reason to doubt the veracity) asking if I could remove references to their name and likeness due to privacy and professional reasons. This despite the fact that all the stuff they asked me to remove also appeared on the news website as well. My initial reaction was “what the hell. Are you, stupid? Why don’t you send an email to **** as well and ask them to remove identifying information. They’ll laugh at you.” But I thought about it, and the incredulity quickly wore off. The media outlet I cited is a respectable organization that makes money from information transference. They have no obligation to manipulate product in response to direct requests from private parties because the clip or story is, in fact, their “business” model.

I contemplated the person’s request and despite the “offense” I took, I came to the conclusion nothing good could come of my steadfast refusal to do so in the name of something, something I had no inkling of. Liberty, freedom of speech? Stupid, I realized there was no reason to turn down their request. It was bullshit and perhaps I should have said no, but I said “sure, I’ll do it.” I did not remove the post, I merely removed the person’s name and photo. I’m just a damned slave blogger. I make no money off this gig, and in fact, I spend money to keep it alive on my host. I can’t take myself so seriously. I’m sure many would disagree with what I did, and for good reason. I wonder if I should have symbolically stood my ground. It simply wasn’t that important to me. I could have argued with this person but I needed to move on and post some more crap.

I’m a blogger. I write shit, almost daily, and I don’t feel I’m doing much to change the world. This ultimately is an ego trip. It’s all for my own benefit. Sometimes when I give a shit, I look at my traffic meter and it’s never fantastic, but I don’t care.

But in cases where I am a writing about news stories involving specific people, I see less of a need and justification to remove the post on private request. The person is the story.

My little blog, while not changing the world for the better, is surely not harming anyone. This is the point where it becomes an issue of freedom of expression. What I do think I owe people I write about is some sense of respect, but many times the snarky tone of this very expression might seem offensive, but I never intend it to be so. Most of the time, I write about vague, ethereal, philosophical shit that is not offensive to anybody (other than the boredom it may induce). When I cover news stories, it’s appropriate to remember, as a “public” commentator, that people’s lives are involved and I must speak as if these disembodied names represent someone sitting in a chair next to me.

We live in a new era of global cohabitation. When the internet first took cultural root back in the 1990s, we called it the “web” which was a very fitting description. It is a web, it ties human identity and consciousness into a featureless blob. I wrote about this back when I began “Phoenixism” in the old days, and is perhaps the impetus behind the final name of Social Extinction. Personal space, once grand and spanning pastures, is now reduced to the micrometer flinch between your eyes and your monitor or smartphone.

We are up everyone’s business.

And it works both ways.