My Disappointment with People
There are so many things that I find disappointing about popular, supposedly critical thinking about the world. It’s not a comforting feeling and I want to write about this without humble bragging. I can’t really write about the disappointments though without also writing about why my expectations are so fucking whack to begin with. So, I have to begin with myself.
From what I can remember, I always hated school…
When I was 8, my family moved from a standard Arizona suburb to a new development that was about to rapidly expand and gobble-up its rural outskirts. It was close enough to smell the manure. It was only half-built. It was a typical 90’s large development project pitching its man-made lakes, club house, and freeway access to modest middle-class families. However, it was also substantially Mormon.
When I started school there, I was a super-skinny kid with glasses and an eye-patch meant to strengthen a lazy eye. The first couple of years I was bullied, which mostly ended when I became better at fighting. I was also a latchkey kid whose parents couldn’t leave their work at work. So I was an attention-seeker, and like so many kids in the 90’s, I got the idea from TV that being a class clown or a troublemaker was a good way to get attention.
Along with all of this I was also placed into advanced learning classes. So if I wasn’t annoying enough as it was, I was also leaving the regular class every day to some mysterious, special class that segregated me even more from other kids. Instead of leading to isolation though, it lead to some friendships that I still have today. This story isn’t all bad.
So anyway like I said, I always hated school. I hated the teachers as people, I hated what they were teaching, I hated most of the kids, and I especially hated the religious bullshit their families pushed on everyone else. If you’ve met a Mormon missionary, imagine what living in the place the come from is like. While I was a class clown and a troublemaker as it was, it took almost no effort to be a rebel in this situation. The religious beliefs were so fragile that the mere fact of not being a Mormon was felt to be threatening to them. The segregation was pretty intense just between Mormon and non-Mormon; but as a Jew, this was even worse. These were the sorts of religious idiots that sincerely weren’t sure if Jews had horns or not. Even the adults.
What that did to my expectations of how other people think about the world is that I just didn’t really know what people thought about the world. I still kind of don’t. I knew what Mormons thought. I knew some bits that I could get from television. I was exposed to a lot of diverse thinking in Hebrew school and through friends’ families who were also unfit for the white Mormon circle of trust. But all of that left a big gap in the shape of so-called normal people who are plugged into normal popular culture.
As I got older, this actually just got more severe. My parents divorced when I was 12 and my mother, who I lived with, became house poor. I decided I didn’t want to watch TV anymore at around 15 and refused to watch most television shows until my mid to late-20’s. I was a child of the used bookstore and the internet. My hatred of school and my record of troublemaking also lead to numerous suspensions, then expulsions to alternative schools, and eventually to dropping out at 15. I got my GED at 17 and started taking some community college classes, paid for through part-time jobs or the PEL grant. Eventually, the DES made me choose between benefits and college classes and I usually chose benefits. Anyway, by then I wasn’t going to be integrated back into any well-beaten American life path.
The way that all of this relates to the topic of this entry is that while I was living in a world of angsty self-education for about a decade, the average person my age was learning how to become dependent on educators …if they were learning any lasting thing at all. While I felt obligated to compensate and teach myself everything I thought other people were learning through school, other people were forgetting whatever they retained long enough to pass tests. While I was finding college syllabuses online and mapping out the topics and resources I would need for studying them, other people were researching colleges to apply for and driving themselves crazy with anxiety about getting into them.
Alright, so my expectations come from all this. I expected people who had been through college to know the things I was seeing in the syllabuses online. I expected them to have read the recommended books. I assumed people were retaining fundamentals about the hard and soft sciences. And if they had any kind of college degree, I assumed that meant they had built specialized knowledge on top of that. As for drop-outs and fuckups like me, I just expected them to try and enjoy life.
What I think I’m starting to see now is that this isn’t at all how college graduates are. They aren’t people who retained the fundamentals and from a deep passion for their field of study, dedicated their free time to deepening their knowledge from their field’s past and watching for new breakthroughs in their field’s present. A lot of these people don’t even seem to have a book collection, which still baffles me because when I could finally get a credit card in my late 20’s and afford to buy books on Amazon, it was one of my happiest achievements. And with libgen and sci-hub, I feel like I am living in a utopia of access to knowledge that I have felt deprived of my entire life.
Most of all, I thought and still often think that college graduates are smarter than I am. And I mean any college grad because I was never motivated to learn about what the differences were between different colleges. So my disappointment runs deep. It can border on true disgust at times. When I see people with letters and titles making arguments that can’t be supported by even a cursory investigation of a topic, I feel a mix of anger, nausea, and shock. And when those arguments can directly impact my life, I feel threatened by them.
The people I am not disappointed by are the conspiracy theorists, the Trump voters, the banal racists, and the like. I worry about some of their conclusions, but they aren’t my bosses and their opinions are only given a megaphone so that politicians can know what things to say that will get their votes. It is the irresponsible college graduates, often liberals, sometimes Marxists or Socialists of some sort who really get me down. It’s the way that their intellectual confidence (and my lack of intellectual confidence) has been manufactured by school systems that triggers me the most. It’s their arrogance that I despise, much like conservatives who for different reasons find these people repulsive.
What passes for a public intellectual today is shameful. The sloganeering and shibboleths of the American liberal and leftwing world are superficial and the dismissive attitudes that probably seem to them like objective, critical distance is abhorrent. Their assumption that merit is always the selective system through which higher education is earned seems to me like insanity. Their recognition of one another as opinion- and taste-makers is an in-group mentality that I find no less despicable than what I saw from the Mormons. Of the many monsters that this society creates, they’re my personal arch nemesis.
And as a different kind of monster, I am likely not their ally.