A Message in a Bottle…

… from the Maracot Deep of Gradeapalooza. A few quick points before I resume my examination of the strange artifacts my students have thrust upon me:

Point the First: At NRO, Jay Nordlinger is two-thirds of the way through some ruminations on what the Blessed Dalrymple might call “Our culture — what’s left of it.” One particular segment that caught my attention:

I spend a lot of time in and around music. (I work as a music critic at night.) Every so often, musicians will “come out” to me. They will confess their conservatism to me. But they swear me to secrecy, lest they get in trouble — lest they lose their jobs, or otherwise be outcasts.

Why should this be? Why should politics matter in music? So what if an oboist believes in lower marginal tax rates, missile defense, or school choice? What does that have to do with oboe playing? What should her colleagues care?

They just do. If they knew, they would know she was a Bad Person. And she might have trouble keeping or getting work.

I submit (and not for the first time) that this underscores a key difference between significant portions of the left and right in contemporary culture. Folks on my side get used to compartmentalizing pretty early in the process — separating the dancer (whose ideas we may find objectionable) from the dance (which we enjoy.) We tend to think of a waffle fry as being a waffle fry, not an endorsement of a political or moral position. On the other hand, we have the folks who get miffed when Mo Tucker becomes a Tea Partier, or who launch boycotts because they believe they should determine where their money goes even after they’ve spent it. In short, we have the compartmentalizers and the folks who see life as some sort of relatively seamless political garment. Mr. Nordlinger, the answer to your question is that your oboeist’s colleagues are totalitarians — soft ones perhaps, but totalitarians nonetheless.

Point the Second: In the wake of the Real City show last weekend, The Berries have launched a Twitter account, which you may follow at @TheBerriesAreGO.

Point the Third: A popular local watering hole and a beloved restaurant, both located in downtown Mondoville, have both closed on very short notice in the last few weeks, dejobbing more than a few folks in the process. Both sets of owners mentioned local taxes and licensing issues as making their businesses unsustainable. The slew of vacant storefronts along Main Street seem to support their argument. (Wal-Mart and other chains near Chicken Murder Boulevard are perking right along — they’re big enough not to worry about those taxes and fees. Some would decry the big folks for squeezing out the small. However, might we also not consider the idea that the city is creating a de facto barrier to entry?)

In the local newspaper, yesterday’s editorial was entitled “[Mondoville] Is Magical.” When I saw it, I thought, “Yep. Businesses are disappearing quite completely.”

And now, back into the bathyscaphe.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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10 Responses to A Message in a Bottle…

  1. Jeff says:

    Your third point is a particularly good one. Wal-Mart has begun to move into D.C. neighborhoods with high unemployment and few retail and grocery options. Some people are dismayed, but the city has created a regulatory and political environment in which only a huge company can afford to play the long game that is opening a business here, which includes taking a huge risk on a bad neighborhood.

    Even on my safe, affluent block, people pine for quant little businesses. They wish we had a diner, a bike shop, a bookstore…but locals who work for the government are inherently risk-averse, while suburban entrepreneurs know they can do better elsewhere.

  2. Huck says:

    ProfMondo – The oboeist’s colleagues are totalitarians? Really? See, here’s another interpretation from the left. Conservatives are conditioned to believe that they are always and everywhere victims of some liberal oppression. I see this regularly in the classrooms of the academy, where conservative students are so convinced by folks who see liberal bogeyman around every desk corner that they read ideological persecution into any critical feedback. The liberals I know personally (and I bet even the liberals you know personally), as opposed to the mythical liberals conjured up by the rightwing victim noise machine, are not totalitarians at all, not even “soft” ones. We liberals live comfortably and amiably with conservatives, maybe disagreeing with them on issues, but never intolerant of their right to hold their views. And we think of waffle fries as political statements probably to a lesser degree than conservatives fashion their own political statements about how liberals think of waffle fries.

    Let me just say, ProfMondo, that I think the extent to which that oboeist fears “coming out” as a conservative is much more likely due to her having been convinced by the conservative paranoia mongers that she will lose her job, be ostracized by her peers if she does, and be considered a “Bad Person.” The liberals are out to get us! The liberals are out to get us! That’s what Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck tell us! To which I say: Hogwash! Empirical evidence, please!

    Perhaps Mr. Nordlinger, instead of feeding his oboeist friend’s unfounded fears, should try to do something conservatives seem incapable of doing: challenging the paranoia. And maybe, ProfMondo, you might do the same, instead of feeding into that unfounded paranoia that we liberals are de facto soft totalitarians, always out to oppress and victimize those who hold different political views. I posit that this whole conservative movement to classify liberals as totalitarian victimizers and conservatives as helpless victims can, itself, be thought of as “soft” totalitarianism. Again, the proof is in the pudding: “out” conservatives seem to be doing just fine professionally, academically, socially, economically, and otherwise. They certainly aren’t herded off into the gulags where they are taught to look deep into their waffle fries and see in them the Big Brother that they must love.

    • profmondo says:

      Huck, what I call totalitarianism is the assumption that everything falls into the sphere of the political. It’s not quite the same thing as authoritarianism. With rare exceptions — Nazis and Stalinists, frixample — I tend to think a person’s politics are irrelevant to how he does his job or what kind of person she is. Which side is the one with the slogan “The personal is political?” My response to that is that if the personal is political, then nothing is personal anymore. Once more, how is that different from Mussolini’s “Nothing outside the State?”

      You may want to ask Erin O’Connor about paranoia. Or Mary Lefkowitz. Or Naomi Schafer Riley. Or Teresa Wagner. Or these folks. And those are off the top of my head.

      And yes, there are reasonable liberals as well as reasonable conservatives — I hope our interaction on this blog is evidence of that, as is my friendship with the Mad Dog. But in the worlds of the academy, of the arts and of the humanities, I would contend that the bias and occasional action is real. Or are you contending that Gramsci was just wasting his time?

      • Huck says:

        ProfMondo – I would argue that, by your definition, there are as many conservatives who think of the personal as political as there are liberals. To think that liberals don’t ever view waffle fries as waffle fries is the conservative version of viewing the personal as political. Furthermore, I think the very real conservative tendency to want to legislate morality makes the personal political as much as anything liberals do. And yet there is nothing mentioned at all about this tendency in the rightwing as being totalitarian. Frankly, sometimes the personal is political, for conservatives and liberals and even libertarians. And I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing always and everywhere. And it’s certainly not cause for throwing around labels such as totalitarian to classify such things.

        Also, I don’t dispute that bias and occasional action is real in certain environments. But such is not the exclusive domain of liberals. One could contend that conservative bias is as much present in the military as liberal bias is in the academy. And then there are the Liberty and Bob Jones Universities of the academy where the bias goes in another direction. But acknowledging this is a far cry from ascribing totalitarian behaviors simply because a bias exists.

        I’m a bit rushed to get out the door and on to the office/classroom, so my thoughts here are maybe a bit jumbled and certainly incomplete; but I’ll try to come back to them after a while. Let me just end by saying that I do believe there is a problem with paranoia among the rightwing. I see it in the belief that Christianity is being persecuted, in the idea that our freedom is under assault, in the dichotomy of “real” America versus whatever the opposite is. I just look around at how people are actually able to live their lives in our country and I just am amazed that the country we actually do live in has almost no bearing at all to the country that many conservatives have imagined we live in.

  3. Alpheus says:

    >>> “The liberals I know personally (and I bet even the liberals you know personally), as opposed to the mythical liberals conjured up by the rightwing victim noise machine, are not totalitarians at all, not even ‘soft’ ones.”

    I wish this were true. In fact, many of the liberals *I* know personally — I can’t speak for Mondo, obviously — are all too eager to badmouth conservatives and travesty their positions and characters behind their backs. You’re right that students often find ridiculous reasons to explain away legitimate criticism, but it seems presumptuous to dismiss the fears of adults who, listening to and observing their liberal colleagues day after day and year after year, conclude that ideological camouflage is a lot safer than “coming out.”

    • Huck says:

      Alpheus – I visit a lot of conservative blogs, and I can assure you that there’s a lot of conservative badmouthing of liberals going on. Do people get passionate about their political views and criticize, sometimes savagely, the other side? Sure. Do people engage in ideological ad hominems? Yes, of course. But do liberals think that waffle fries are not just waffle fries? Um, that’s a gross exaggeration, to say the least. And to throw out the label of totalitarian is equally excessive and wrong. I mean, ProfMondo has just equated American liberals with fascist Italy under Mussolini. Really?

      As for ideological camouflage, it happens in places all over when there is a preponderance of ideological agreement in one direction or another. I’ve lived and operated in environments that lean heavily left and heavily right. And I’ve seen left-leaners become more circumspect in heavily conservative ideological spaces, and right-leaners become more circumspect in heavily liberal ideological spaces.

      I also believe the fears of conservative adults are shaped as much by an insular conservative propaganda machine that conditions conservatives to think they’ll be victimized by “coming out” than they are by the ideological posturings of their liberal friends and colleagues. I haven’t yet witnessed a conservative colleague who has “come out” suffer any serious consequences either in their personal relationships with their liberal colleagues or in their professional ones.

      • profmondo says:

        FWIW, I’m not arguing that American liberals = Mussolini. I’m saying they are both operating from a similar perspective as regards a lack of separation between the personal and the political, the realm of self vs. the realm of State. (Hence my “seamless garment” comment in the original post.) And if everything is political, then I would suggest pressing other folks to toe a politically correct line is an inevitable consequence. The extreme form of that was gleischaltung, but I’m not going to go Godwin here. But again, if you’re like Sue Sanders (who was apparently mainstream enough to be published in Salon), or if you’d drop friends for their political views, then yes, that’s a totalitarian mentality.

        I gotta get back to grading. Don’t be a stranger.

      • Jeff says:

        I’m not a Republican, and I’ve never considered myself “conservative,” and I agree that in the past few years, some folks on the right have cocooned themselves too tightly in their alternate media bubble, which has weakened their ability to understand and argue against their political opponents.

        That said, I’ve also worked in academia and publishing for 14 years while living in an 85% Democratic neighborhood, and the notion that conservatives can safely be “out” in certain culturally influential fields just is not true. I’ve been in hiring meetings where otherwise perfectly acceptable resumes with one tiny “College Republicans” reference were giggled at and discarded; I remember being dissuaded from hiring someone because her name sounded “too religious.” I’ve seen official Obama victory parties held at offices on company time. I saw a bunch of bratty new grad students assume that the one registered Republican in an English department must be a racist. I have a liberal Republican friend who’s managing editor of a major magazine in New York; she had to keep her head down as her workplace practically became an Obama campaign office.

        Look, there are plenty of loony, insular people on the right. I caught heat from a few of them after I wrote a book in 2006 that dared to spend a chapter showing medieval Islamic society as interesting, for heaven’s sake; some people are utterly overwrought in their anti-Obama obsession; and I laughed when one conservative pundit freaked out over a session at an academic conference that attracted, like, six lame Marxists. (And I was livid when the HOA tried to erect a cross at the entrance to my family’s Louisiana subdivision.) But there really are fields and workplaces on the left where the culture is inclined to demand near-total uniformity, and those fields get such attention from conservatives precisely because the people who run them aren’t living up to their claims of being intellectually open to a wide range of human experience. I think one can acknowledge that without discounting political obsessives on the right, too.

      • Huck says:

        Jeff- I do acknowledge that liberal bias exists in certain areas; but what I take issue with here is not that fact, but with the claim that the propensity for liberal-dominant environments that disfavor conservatives is somehow exemplary totalitarianism. Also, just because some folks within a liberal-dominant environment act like intolerant, immature asses doesn’t mean that the majority of liberals in that environment believe and behave accordingly, and it certainly doesn’t prove a de facto totalitarian mindset baked into liberal ideology.

  4. Pingback: QotD: Moral Hazard and Safety Nets Redux | Professor Mondo

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