The University of Wisconsin at Madison turned out to be a depressing place. Getting into Madison was the pinnacle of my success as a person, my recognition as an intellectual–someone worthy of being considered among fellow intellectual elites at one of America’s most esteemed public universities. It was proof that my junior year “F” in high school English was just misunderstood genius–like Einstein, whose tongue-out poster adorned many college dorm rooms. Finally, I would be among my own people.
But I wasn’t. I was a pompous jerk who thought that becoming capable of reading and barely understanding Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell had somehow anointed me with intellectual prowess that outstripped all but the very most intelligent among us–the types who also wore oddly vintage clothing and glasses, in case the brooding expression wasn’t enough of a statement that no matter how hard you tried, you’d just never understand.
Beyond everything else, I was depressed because I had been a juvenile delinquent who worked his way up through community college, only to reach the top of the mountain and find no answers in sight. Education had been my panacea, science was my religion, left-wing politics were my great hope for global equality, and historical racial and gender inequalities could finally be addressed via affirmative action programs. I proudly paid $1.00 for a muffin at the feminist bake sale, while the woman next to me paid only paid 73 cents–27 cents closer to equality!
Then I landed a volunteer job, helping to organize a convention of campus organizations who were committed to change, just like the rest of us on campus. I was a great telemarketer–calling the other campuses’ organizations and pitching them hard on the idea of attending our conference. We were going to fuse our oversized brains in one location and really get down to business this time. No more symbolism! It was time for direct action! We would convince the corporate wage-slave holders to give up their grip on the proletariat!
Except we wouldn’t. It was all just an excuse for students at other colleges to travel from one place to another, smoke weed, get drunk, and if they consented (perhaps in writing) hook up with girls. It was a big pile of nothing. It wasn’t much different from when I was a juvenile delinquent doing the same exact things, except throwing in “the corporations, man” every so often and complaining about the lack of adequate public transportation in places like Madison, where seeing one person riding alone in a gigantic bus was a common sight.
Classes weren’t much different. I was a political science major, whose exposure to Communism was about 10,000% more than necessary to understand the subject. Before that–before I simply couldn’t take the race and gender “paradigms” anymore–I was a sociology major. Being surrounded by beautiful grounds, beautiful classrooms, and magnificent libraries–none of that seemed to help. The problem was what was taught and the worldview it ended with. As the years ground on, I came up with a theory: if you’re a true liberal, you must be depressed and miserable.
Impossible, you say? Consider the following
- If you’re not Native American or weren’t brought here as a slave, your ancestors participated in genocide, were slavemasters, or benefitted from slavery. But if you are from one of those historically oppressed groups, then you’re constantly reminded that you’re oppressed and (without saying it) inferior to the oppressors.
- If you’re a man, you’ve participated in sexism, and even now make more money than a woman–just because you’re a man. So if you’re a woman, you’re inferior because you can’t earn as much money as a man.
- If you got into UW-Madison, you probably had some sort of privileged education–a white privileged education. So, impliedly, if you come from somewhere other than an upper-middle class white community, you’re somehow inferior.
- If you believe in God, you’re superstitious or possibly bigoted, depending on the type and number of gods you acknowledge. Not an atheist? You’re “unscientific,” and therefore inferior.
- If you use a car or heat a house, you’re contributing to global warming. If you don’t use them, you could die, which would obviously be inferior to living. (Or, really, would it—for the planet?)
This was all new to me. I grew up around people who wanted the fastest Camaro possible, who didn’t know about wage gaps or felt privileged or poor as long as we worked our restaurant jobs often enough to afford “recreational” activities. We existed. We had fun. The fact that I was “Palestinian-American” wouldn’t have ever come up at all. I never felt “inferior,” not unless some teacher said so because I wasn’t heading to college, where I’d learn I’m inferior for the Palestinian thing anyway.
In any event, the rudimentary skills learned were extremely useful (especially arguing ridiculous positions), while the content was usually awful propaganda. If we’re going to improve education, it needs to be more than indoctrination.