Monday, November 03, 2008

Day 37 (Round II) "In the trenches" (countdown edition)

Counting down on a couple of timetables, 'round here. In about 36 hours Dharmonia and I head on up out of this joint for points East for another annual gathering of one of our particular tribes. Usually a pleasant hang, and a great reminder of the scholarly identity and activities that drew a lot of us to the field in the first place. Only problem is that I'm awful damned tired from all the very recent travel; though at least on this particular trip I'm mostly a tourist, not having to present. And, I expect that 40 hours from now in Nashville, there's gonna be a whole hell of a lot of musicologists running around wearing very big grins and exchanging "Yes we can" high-fives.

It's a fine line to walk, as an academic. The Bill O'Reilly/ David Horowitz stereotype of academics, which only really plays credibly with people who don't know any, is that we're isolated, spoiled, Ivory-Tower aesthetes with no practical knowledge of the way the world works. Leaving out the Limbaughs and O'Reilly's and Horowitz's of the world (who are so rich, so privileged, and so coddled that their criticism of us as "isolated" would be laughable if it were not so hateful), it is true that there are a lot of spoiled and self-indulgent people in academia.

But there are spoiled and self-indulgent people everywhere, in every profession. One of the many things that has frosted my bacon about the Disasta from Alaska is the cynical absurdity of her claim that she, and "her people," are more "real" than the people in "less-real" parts of America. As Jon Stewart said, "where the fuck exactly did Al Qaeda fly airplanes into buildings?" It was at the heart of the "fake" America she loves to denigrate--which is particularly crass coming from an ex-beauty queen and newscaster who knows exactly fuck-all about how working-class people actually live. For Limbaugh or O'Reilly or Horowitz or Palin to claim that academics are "elitists" prone to "filters" is to play onto the crudest and least-informed stereotypes about us.

Happily, I firmly believe that we are moving into an era in the national discourse when we may be able to shift the priorities we seek in our leaders: no longer will it matter so damned much whether we want to "have a beer" with the Preznit, or whether he "works with his hands" clearing brush on his photo-op ranch (where he never actually worked a day in his damned life). What'll matter is that we have someone with the smarts, the toughness, the intelligence, the fierce purpose, and the fucking practicality to deal with the way the world is, rather than the way that ill-informed people either hope or fear it is.

Positions of hope and positions of fear are equally bad places from which to make decisions. My own spiritual tradition believes that, in order to engender "right action," you have to begin by seeing the world as it is--and that means recognizing both its beauty and its horror, its joy and sorrow, as perfect just the way they are, because that is the way they are. We work for change while seeking to avoid clutching results. We recognize that all things are constantly in the moment of arising and passing away, and we refrain from clutching onto any of them. As the young Dalai Lama said to the 1960s Allen Ginsberg, "If you see something horrible, don't cling on to it. If you see something wonderful, don't cling on to it."

We work for positive change and the cessation of suffering, not because we think those things will ever be, can ever be eradicated. But because such work is a good thing to do, in and of itself at the moment of doing it. Moments, days, months, and lives arise and pass away, and any joy or sorrow we feel--as we should, because we are human--will not alter those realities by one iota.

So, to those who would claim that we professors are guilty of "liberal bias," I'll say this:

(1) you're insulting my ethics and my students' intelligence when you make that accusation;

(2) you aren't actually dealing with the reality; viz this article from that notorious "liberally-biased" paper in NYC:

"Three sets of researchers recently concluded that professors have virtually no impact on the political views and ideology of their students."
As I replied to my old friend the General, when he sent this to me:
We don't?!? You mean all these years I've been secretly preaching godless secular humanist baby-killing troop-betraying foreign-demon-worshipping tree-hugging terrorist-sympathizing commie/socialist/spreadin' the wealth class war and it didn't work?!? You mean I wound up just teaching them history and music and pedagogy and social engagement and reciprocity and community values?!?

I'm proud of my students, proud of my job, proud of my professional organization (who, if you look at last year's post around this time, successfully fought the US INS to a standstill on behalf of our sister NG), and of the work that we do. And I firmly believe that in about 36 hours we as a nation are going to take a step toward sanity, balance, clarity, reality, and compassion that we as a nation have been crying-out for.

So, here's my prediction:

Along with the big grins and the high-fives, I expect to walk around Nashville for the next five days thinking, "Yes, we DID." And being damned proud of it.

Because, for us as a nation, it is about damned time.

Below the jump: another countdown: the trees know the season is changing.

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