I didn’t intend to have the great Chuck Klosterman fill in editorially this week. I don’t know him and hope he doesn’t mind. I tend to pick up his books whenever I stumble across them at whatever bookstore I’m at – I don’t know why I don’t just order them when they come out. Maybe it’s just a ‘found treasure’ impulse. I like to discover things on my own time.
“Toxic Actuality” is a short story from a collection Klosterman published in 2019 titled “Raised in Captivity.”
In the story, a college professor (Benjamin) is written up by the school administration for “microaggressions” against a student.
Benjamin had had a disagreement the over material he was teaching. The student says the material is racist. Benjamin says no, the material is about racism. The student says that may have the been the author’s intent, but the language is racist because the author of the material is brainwashed by his own white privilege – and that Benjamin clearly shouldn’t have introduced the material because he clearly can’t understand oppression.
A wonderful rabbit hole. Benjamin ultimately regards his student’s objections as “insane.” This leads to the disciplinary action. And then the following exchange between Benjamin and a fellow professor.
“The point,” Benjamin said, “is that we’re allowing these kids to live in a false reality. Which would be fine, except that we’re also supposed to act like their false reality is rational. We’re somehow allowing them to be fascist and childish at the same time. They won’t be prepared for life. Take the kid I allegedly humiliated. What’s going to happen the first time he has to confront an idea that contradicts his worldview? What’s going to happen the first time his boss eviscerates him in front of his co-workers? How will he survive that? There’s no way that kid will be able to handle the real world.”
“But there is no real world,” said Geoffrey. “That’s what you don’t understand.”
“There is no real world,” said Geoffrey. “Or at least not a world any realer than this one.”
They walked in silence for fifteen steps. They watched a squirrel disappear into a dead tree.
“Look,” Geoffrey continued. “I know you think this place is some kind of sick incubator, and that the world outside is harsh and uncompromising, and that these kids are going to leave school fragile and deluded, and that they’ll be dead on arrival. But that will never happen. The world you think they’re forcing on us is the only world they will ever know. You think the kid who filed that complaint is going to graduate and become a construction worker? A nurse? A welder? That doesn’t happen to the kids who go here, unless they want to write a memoir about it. Maybe they’ll end up doing nothing, but they’ll still be fine. They’ll pretend to be broke until their parents die, and then they’ll be as rich as their parents. This is the real world, for them and for us. Right here. Where we are, right now.”
I think about this just because this newspaper is sometimes perceived, in its reporting and in its opinions, to be a fount of microaggressions.
But who’s really the aggressor?
While we’ve generally decided (for the moment) that Chris Rock telling G.I. Jane jokes doesn’t merit physical assault, we haven’t really figured out where the line is. But even if there was a clear line, you can’t stop people from either a.) misinterpreting what you’re saying, or b.) not having much of a sense of humor, or c.) wanting immunity from criticism for their publicly expressed beliefs.
I received the following letter from Joshua Nicholson last week, regarding Charles James’s coverage of the first Supervisorial debate hosted by VFW Post 8988. Nicholson served as moderator of that debate.
Dear Mr. Charles James,
We as veterans are thankful for your superior intellect, sentence structure, and perfect vocabulary. Your strengths definitely makeup where we lack. Our strengths lie in character, integrity, fortitude, and honor. It is a nice balance we carry in this nation. We are thankful you are able to take the time to come and cover the town halls for our local candidates. I do suggest your “journalism” skills need some refining as the VSO issues have not been resolved. If you took just a few moments to do some research, you will see that veterans, among many citizens, suffered greatly during foolish government decisions to lockdown residents, close schools, close businesses, close gyms/fitness centers, close parks, and so on. On top of that, we had a “VSO” who closed the only access to local help during this most vulnerable time for petty reasons. The effects will last a lot longer than you may believe; so no, it is not resolved. But we are glad to have served and defended your right to say what you want in whatever platform you choose; even if those statements are wrong.
I responded to Mr. Nicholson’s letter by asking, in regard to the forum “You asked a question regarding the VSO and in the question you insinuated that Jennifer Roeser had heroically and singlehandedly taken on and solved the problem and gotten the new VSO officer on board. What evidence do you have of this? Is this something she told you?”
Mr. Nicholson did not reply.
Ms. Roeser attended one of the candidate forums and certainly did nothing to contradict her heroic portrayal. So it’s okay to perpetuate a lie so long as we’re all on the same team? Hmm.
Charles discusses the merits of how the VSO question was asked in his story this week which appears on page ten.
I think it’s disingenuous to use one’s military service or patriotism or political affiliation as a shield against public accountability.