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Tag Archives: Puritans

I recently had the pleasure of reading this impassioned piece from the Washington Post. By “recently” I mean “today.” I’ve since reread it several times, because the commodification of American colleges and the narrowing of academic fields is an issue very dear to my heart.

As I reread this piece (which, now that I’ve begun this blog post, I confess I find rather uninspiring), I must ask: who is its audience? The author’s entire argument can be summarized by skipping the entire article and reading the last sentence: “Genuine education is not a commodity, it is the awakening of a human being.”

Great. Super. Fantastic. I’m on board. I agree.

Who are you talking to? Are you talking to me? I just finished college. I’m probably going back for more school. My response to a similar article was a little salty, to say the least–but still. Is this directed at future employers? At students? At current college professors?

I think it’s the third one. C. Door Number Three. The soaring rhetoric and its entrenched location within the Washington Post seem to corroborate this first impression. Use of the word “naive” (a word often used to encompass the analytical category of “people who don’t understand academia”) deepens my suspicion.

So what is this article saying, then, if it is directed at other professors? What is the ultimate message being conveyed? I don’t know–I’m not a professor (my only degree is a B.A., which I promise you was hard-earned).

My first and immediate point to make in response to this article is:

A): re: “Genuine education is not a commodity.” True. “Education” in a liberal arts context is learning how to engage with and integrate multiple disciplinary, cultural, and/or epistemological perspectives. In other words, it’s about learning multiple different ways of doing things, in order to be able to apply the appropriate one(s) to all relevant situations. It’s something you can achieve on your own, or with the help of your parents, or with the help of unpaid teachers, or at a state school, or at an Ivy-league university. Education is, as this good professor says, “the discovery that you can use your mind to make your own arguments and even your own contributions to knowledge,” (I’ve made this analogy before); mastering multiple different theoretical perspectives, much like Bruce Lee learned multiple martial arts–to be able to better accomplish your own goals with the most effective method.

HOWEVER

What happens throughout this article is a persistent (and, if I can borrow the word briefly, pernicious) conflation of the process of learning, the undergraduate experience, and the university-as-business. 

EDUCATION, as we’ve previously pointed out, can happen anywhere. An argument can be made that it’s easier to achieve “education” in a college environment. That argument is not occurring here (or, rather, it’s occurring off the page, a dirty trick that I would have expected from a philosopher, not a classics scholar (though the difference is sometimes hard to spot. The easy test? Do they ever mention German names?). The education is what “good” students are after. This is why they are good students–because whether by temperament or economic good fortune, they are highly interested in the self-improvement aspect of a college education, not just its value as a commodity. I was one of those students, because I was extremely lucky financially, and because I am a huge nerd.

The undergraduate experience is a whole other canteen of nematodes, which I’m not going to get into right now, but basically shorthand version: going to a college, participating in classes, learning from professors, etc., all are part and parcel of what makes college so transformative. College can force you out of your comfort zone (if you aren’t EXTREMELY, NEUROTICALLY devoted to remaining within it), and it’s when we’re out of our comfort zone that we grow. However, it’s not the issue at hand.

Number three (again number three! Second one in the article! I wonder if it has any cosmological significance…?): The university-as-business. This is the part that our author seems to be worked up about, which I find troubling for reasons I’ll expand below. But basically, my response: College has become a commodity in the U.S. (and in the wider world, I’m sure, but I am not concerned with that at the moment). As our author acknowledges, college is “replacing high school as the required ticket for a career.” This means that having a college education makes you stand out (even at my workplace, my co-workers make jokes about my “fancy college degree”). Your odds of being employed (and employed well) skyrocket. Success in college pretty heavily indicates success later in life.

Now, unlike the last article I blasted on my blog, I don’t entirely reject the author’s point here. The commodification of education is a problem (not just because of the way in which it bars the doors to the lower and middle classes). Some students do treat their college purely as a business, feeling entitled to a degree with no effort or challenge on their part. The government sees colleges as businesses, and so does not offer them any great degree (ha) of support.

Ultimately, colleges have adapted. The college I attended occupied an uncertain middle ground between being a business and a place of education. There was a tension between the institution’s bottom line and their values. On the student side, there was similar tension–we sought to balance our role as students with our newfound power as customers. It gives students an unprecedented degree of power, to acknowledge that they are customers. We have to figure out what that power MEANS, all of us, students and professors.

Hence, my concern. Rather than acknowledging the changing face of education (and trying to offer some direction going forward), this article seems to deny it. Education is not about money, the author says. It’s about the students’ engagement with the material. Well…that’s not true. Not any more.

Education is about money. It is inextricably, inalienably, unavoidably about money. Even when you’re talking about student engagement–who are the students who can afford to be engaged? The ones who don’t work an extra 30 hours each week to pay for school? The ones who don’t have to take care of children? The ones who could afford to go to school in the first place? The ones who could buy the textbooks–the list goes on. The point is: “student engagement” is not the boogieman to pin the problems on. Like it or not, the problems are more complex than that. We can’t escape the complexities of the present-day university by just demanding that students pay more attention.

That is where my problem with this piece comes in. I don’t think it’s wrong…I just think it’s not asking the right question. The question we need to ask ourselves is: What does it mean that students are now customers? What new pressures does that place on faculty? On students? On administration? What power does this give all of those involved in higher education? When a bad grade or a faculty grudge can make or break a students’ future, how do we negotiate these structures? And when a bad review or an angry parent can ruin a professor’s future, how do we negotiate these structures? What about higher education needs to change? And what needs to stay the same?

And for the love of GOD, can we not commit the fallacy of equivocation so damn much? Jeez, people. More of you need to take philosophy classes.

SUP INTERNET

TODAY’S BLOG POST IS ABOUT MOCKERY

But in a good way.

Well, maybe.

Basically, here’s the deal.
I respect people immensely.  The idea of hurting another person is antithetical (there’s a 50¢ word) to me.  I don’t like playing PvP MMOs (although they’re growing on me as I realize that a significant number of people who pay PvP MMOs are actually assholes) because it feels like crushing someone’s hopes and dreams each time they wander through my sniper scope (which doesn’t stop me from pushing the button; it just makes me sad inside).  I sometimes get distraught over the death of innocent video game characters.

You can’t tell behind the Daedric armor, but I’m crying in this screenshot.

THIS IS WHY I fly into a completely useless and very mellow rage whenever I hear that somebody undeserving gets hurt (anywhere).  This rage usually vents itself via Tumblr posts, video of Alan Rickman flipping tables, and writing long, violent fight scenes, but it still occurs, and especially so when I hear about mockery.

Now, let’s explore mockery for a minute.

Merriam-Webster tells us that MOCKERY is “insulting or contemptuous action or speech.”  It’s from old French, if anyone cares, according to THE online etymology dictionary, from mocquer (the verb indicating an act of derision).   I like how the Internet gives me the ability to sound as though I know what the hell I’m talking about.  ANYWAY, MOVING ON.

MOCKERY is humor at the expense of something.  It is cruel humor.  It’s why we laugh at Three Stooges movies.   It’s also currently one of the more popular forms of humor, this overblown schadenfreudeal infliction of amusement.  I’m not even sure what the last half of that sentence meant.  BUT THE WHOLE POINT IS that you are ridiculing a person or thing for a negative quality which you find amusing based on its comparison with normalcy.  As in LOL HE’S GOT A NAIL IN HIS HEAD LOOK AT THE STUPID BASTARD HAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAA

NOW, I’m not a fan of mockery.  I’m good at it, (I think that around the age of 13 the sarcasm gland develops, and mine is still running on full steam, providing a natural hormonal boost to this sort of thing), but I find it mean.  And mean as in low, as in it’s a pettier form of humor.  IT’S STILL FUNNY, OF COURSE, but sometimes it also makes me sad inside.  This is why I don’t watch Three Stooges movies, or Home Alone, or those other comedies.

I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH OTHER PEOPLE ENJOYING IT.  This is ME, my opinion, and it MAY OR MAY NOT BE FULL OF CRAP.

BUT I DIGRESS.

What do I find funny?

THE SILLY.

Wait, that wasn’t impressive enough.

That’s better.

So what is THE SILLY?

Simple.

It’s the insidious, creeping threat of CORN SILK, the most terrifying threat our planet has ever placed.  It’s Number 4, the Larch.  It’s Sebring Convertible potato wombat umlaut conversion neodespotism. It’s SOMETHING SILLY, DAMN IT.

It’s a ridiculous overreaction to getting the wrong kind of coffee (as in, strangling people).  It’s showing up to a black tie event in a bright pink tuxedo.  It’s a voice, face, expression, phrase, or attitude that strikes me as silly.  It’s The Marx Brothers and Monty Python.

I wish I could say that I don’t find things that hurt people funny, but I do.  Llamas with Hats is possibly the most amusing cartoon I’ve ever seen on the internet.

Few things amuse me more than ragdoll physics.  Why? Because it’s SILLY.  My reaction to watching people get flung around by Sauron in the prologue to Lord Of The Rings was approximately that of a four-year old:  “AAAH THEIR VOICES ARE FUNNY LOOK AT THEIR ARMS GO FLAILY SQUIGGLE HEE HEE HEE”

I also laughed at the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the master swordsman gets instantly, unassumingly shot, because the sudden shift of dramatic tension and the inversion of the trope is just amusing.  That’s not how swordfights work, Indy! YOU SO SILLY.

That said, I find a lot of things silly.

Actually, I’ll let you in on a secret.

EVERYTHING IS SILLY.

It has to be.  You have to take the world with humor, because when you do you realize that there is so much to laugh at EVERYWHERE.

Because humor is a celebration.  To laugh at the silly in a gesture or phrase is to celebrate the beautiful surprise of amusement, to recognize that the Earth is not really so serious after all.

Humor can be weapon and shield, healing and illuminating. Etc.

But most of all it can just be funny.

And humor is a separate sphere from ethics, from love, from life.  I can laugh while I’m angry without being unjust, because it is the action that follows the laughter that dictates my morality.  I can laugh while I’m being deadly serious.  I can and do pause to laugh while speaking in complete honesty and earnestness.

So I don’t often feel guilty when I laugh at something silly.  Whatever it is.  Because I know the difference between right and wrong, or I hope I do at this point, because it’s pretty much too late now otherwise.

So I laugh at funny things. Like this.

 

I really, really shouldn’t laugh at this. Obviously RDJ is a terrible person.

And then, if I need to, I turn around and beat the shit out of the jerk making an offensive joke behind me, because offensive jokes are evaluated in two categories:

One: Are they funny? Did I laugh? Was it said with wit and courage and good comic timing?

Two: Are they morally wrong?  Is someone going to be hurt by this? Killed by this? Is this an insult to someone I care about?

Regardless of the answer to number one, if the answer to two is “yes,” then you’re in for an ass-kicking.  And depending on how severely “yes” the answer is, things might get pretty spectacular.  As in, I’ll make an event on Facebook and invite friends. I’ll take video, make gifs and post it on Tumblr.  I’ll laugh.  And then I’ll go to jail because that’s legally wrong, which is YET ANOTHER sphere of evaluation.

I laugh at funny things.

But that won’t save you, because I can kick your ass while I’m laughing mine off.

COMING UP NEXT WEEK…I have no idea, because I wrote this two weeks ago.  HURRAH AUTOMATIC UPLOADS.  Coming up: A blog post!

So go about your business, people, internet, with your friends and your enemies and your haters and your wonderful rays of optimism and your hilariously amoral ways.   Go about the business of life, and do what you believe in.

But I reserve the right to laugh at you at any time.

The vampire.

Mostly associated with three things at the time of this post: either Buffy, Mila Jovovich, or Twilight. The vampire has certainly changed from its older roots—something has happened since the writing of the classic Dracula.

What happened? Was it prohibitive makeup costs?

Or was it something  more far-reaching—a cultural revolution?

DUN DUN DUNNNNN.

In this blog post, I’ll take a look at the history of vampires, and throw in some Jungian psychology to sorta spice it up a little bit.

The vampire legend has its first origins in civilizations as old as Rome and Greece, where demons and spirits with vampire characteristics popped up in legends and folk tales.

But the first true vampires come from western Europe.

There, in the 18th century, folklore tells of vampires as bloated, distended corpses,  rising from the grave to drink blood–often wearing only the tattered remains of their funeral shroud.

Afterward, they would return to the coffin, leaking blood out of their mouth and nose.

Artist’s Impression.

Vampirism could be caused by witches, suicide, infected wounds, a bad temper, demons, evil spirits, or letting an animal walk or jump over the corpse before it was buried.

Killing a vampire could be accomplished in myriad ways—essentially, removing a major organ or essential section of the body or taking any household object and inserting it into or near a vampire would have a deleterious effect on said non-living entity.

The transformation of the vampire myth from ‘bloated gibbering corpse’ into ‘handsome and perfectly coherent semi-dead person’ started, perhaps, with an 1829 book written by Dr. John Polidori entitled, wait for it… The Vampire.

This book, partly intended as an insulting portrayal of Lord Byron, was instantly welcomed by the public, and the aristocratic, charming vampire arrived on the scene. A second tale, Carmilla, tied the vampire irrevocably to forbidden aspects of human emotion (nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more).

Only 25 years later, in 1897, the vampire climbed to one of the greatest heights of horror literature in Brahm Stoker’s Dracula. Inspired by a particularly brutal prince of Wallachia, Stoker rewrote the vampire into a cunning, brilliant, seductive, and psychotic character, taking all the personality of The Vampire and the twisted seduction of Carmilla into one individual, Count Dracula.

As 1900 came rolling around, the notion of the vampire took off, dissolving into countless novels particularly in the age of cinema and television. After countless re-imaginings and dozens of historical tweaks, the vampire finally came to rest where it is today—simultaneously ghoul, vague personification of upper class fear, symbol of the dangers of reckless hedonism, and the ultimate incarnation of the teenage “bad boy” fantasy.

Yes, vampirism has morphed in an interesting way over the last three centuries, from a disgusting thing to be feared to a thing to be idolized or even something you’d want to date.

Oh, and the chupacabra.

Pictured: The essence of suave charm.

So how is this relevant? In what conceivable context could vampires be linked to anything at all useful in modern society?

Can’t guess?

Well, that’s what I’m here for.

Through the wonderful world of Jungian psychology.

Carl Jung, psychologist? OR VAMPIRE HUNTER?

The aforementioned world of Jungian psychology is a fascinating one, specifically in its approach to legends and mythology.

Carl Jung saw patterns in mythology, recurring characters and ideas, which lead him to present the concept of the ‘archetype.’

‘Jungian’ archetypes vary in their scope and impact, but clearly something in the vampire myth resonates very definitely in the human mind.

In the first place, vampires are connected very closely—through every culture—to two things: religion and blood.

Perhaps, if we wanted to chase the issue of archetypes in religion, we might argue that these tie back to the same thing, but my fingers are getting tired and so I will ignore that subject for the moment.

Vampires have always been parasitic, draining creatures—consuming blood, flesh, (and sometimes other, less pleasant things) in order to prolong their existence or right some wrong.

They have been associated with damnation in many ways, sometimes going so far as to be demons themselves, or even corpses directly possessed by the devil.

Another interesting point (to me) is the fact that the modern vampire is a very quiet creature.  S/He is calm, collected, and intelligent, slowly and gently sucking the life out of his victims by repeated visits.

.In the ‘truer’ modern retellings of vampire tales, the largest amount of pain is usually visited upon the vampire, with guns, knives, stakes, crosses, fire, and all manner of other barbaric, generally bladed objects.

The vampire’s victim does not necessarily suffer, nor do they even always realize that they are the victim.

(If we look at it this way, Twilight becomes the horrific tale of a young woman who is all too terribly blind to the emotional damage wreaked upon her by a cruel vampire)

In this way, the vampire as it stands now bears an interesting resemblance to addiction, which any online subscription medical paper can tell you is one of the major problems of our time: addiction to drugs, to alcohol, to gambling, to the internet, to World of Warcraft.

Perhaps the vampire’s evolution from barbaric, disgusting monster (in the 1700s, when war was still a common thing and violent death by sword was much more common and even expected in some cases) to life-draining seducer (through the age of rapidly multiplying addictive things and increasing fear of the aristocracy) is not an accident of public opinion, but rather the product of the evolving human subconscious.

The next step in the evolution of the human psyche.

I’ve posted my sixth post! Oh my god! How awesome is that?

I’m totally a veteran blogger now!

Due to indescribable cosmic horror, my fifth post was rather incoherent, but I promise that this particular one shall be more intelligible.

I’m looking at a website from the makers of Icanhazcheesburger–about the art of trolling. 😀

And yes, it’s probably at least 20% fake, and yes, it’s disgusting and coarse and not appropriate for younger viewers. But every now and then there are images like this. 

This screenshot inspires a great deal. It reminds me that, no matter what country we log on from or which MMORPG we play, we’re all nerds, and we can still connect even over the internet.

Now, to turn around and discuss the opposite issue.

Content is a monster.  In this day and age it’s all about content.  Movies. Youtube. The Chive. Memes like the lolcats.  Information is being fired at us at a terminally accelerating rate.

And now, we have Facebook.  Facebook is the worst of the bunch.  It provides content created by your friends. It allows you to have hundreds of friends without having to ever talk to a human being face-to-face. It takes the human connection out of the equation.

Now, I’m not saying Facebook is bad. I use it a lot, I admit.

I’m not saying content is bad either.  Content can be funny/sad/informative. Sometimes it can even actually change someone’s life.

But I’m trying to cut back on Facebook. And on my coasting over internet humor sites.  And I’m trying to go out more often and talk to real people. Because, you know what? Facebook isn’t a good substitute for a real group of people. If you’re up at midnight and FB chatting with your friends in an empty room–guess what, you’re still alone. And I feel it.  Don’t you?  So (finish reading this blog), turn off the computer, and go talk to someone. At least once a day, speak to a real human being, face to face, without it being about food that they’re giving you.

Also.

Han clearly shot first.

Hello Internets!

Well, it’s a day again. Or perhaps a night.

Anyway.

Here’s my topic for today.

It just came to me one night, as I sat in the post-Thanksgiving food coma that usually lasts for several days.

*begin pitch*

You are aware, of course, that each holiday has its various costumes. Easter? The Easter Bunny. Halloween? (insert favorite Halloween costume). Christmas? Santa. (or Jesus).

Even more disturbing, these holiday costumes have been perverted by the touch of a sexually repressed society, until they have become the ‘Sexy Easter Bunny.’ Sexy Santa (or Sexy Jesus). Therefore, I suggest and submit a new costume for your entertainment and titillation.

BEHOLD!

The Sexy Puritan costume!

Ever wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving without needing to dress up as a large, mostly terrestrial bird? Well now you can! Just slap on this costume—a process requiring only three hours and a state-licensed blacksmith—and you’re ready to go!

Yours for only SEVEN EASY PAYMENTS OF $29.99!

Act now! This offer is sure to go fast!