Paris on the Hocking

I haven't blogged in a while because my wife and son have absconded to Paris for the week, leaving me and Olivia to fend for ourselves amidst the debauchery of Athens. To judge from recent news reports, Paris, too, seems to be in the throes of debauchery, but it seems to me that if one must live in debauched times one could do worse than to be living them in Paris.

We can't compete with Paris any more than we can compete with Harvard, but we can think we can. While Paris is having riots in the banlieux we're having protests against the "Bush Regime." There's an organization here in Athens--perhaps it's national, I don't know--that is trying to get Bush impeached. I suppose it's some sort of payback for the whole Clinton thing, but one can't help but notice that the difference between conservatives and progressive appears to be that conservatives try to remove presidents who have committed high crimes and misdemeanors, while progressives try to remove presidents who don't see the world the way they do. Perhaps in the mind of a progressive, not seeing the world in a particular way just is a high crime and misdemeanor.

Whatever. These folks are starting off their campaign with a protest against the local army recruiter, whose office just happens to be at the end of my street. The plan of the protesters was to have a "walk-out" yesterday at 10:30, which means that anybody who wanted to join in the "protest" against the army recruiting office was supposed to walk out of class right at 10:30 (all classes here run from ten past the hour to the top of the next hour, so the walk-out was guaranteed to disrupt classes), head to the recruitment office, and block access to it. It's not quite the same thing as shooting pistolets at the gendarmerie, but it's a lot more excitement than we're used to around here. Shades of '68.

News of the "walk-out" reminded me of a sign I saw on the campus gate last week. It was a large banner, actually, with the letters SDS very large upon it, followed by smaller writing that said "Students Deserve Safety." In my day SDS stood for Students for a Democratic Society, but of course even way back in the day the students who belonged to SDS didn't really believe in democracy--not really--anymore than the students here believe in it. If you believe in democracy you accept it as at least possible that people will disagree with you about some things, and there may be more of such people than of people who agree with you, and you will have to put up with that until you can persuade the other people to change their minds. And if you believe in democracy then you believe in changing people's minds with arguments and reasons, not with force. Forcing people to stay out of a recruitment center is not an act of democracy any more than burning down the recruitment center (as used to happen in my day).

Some people appear to have forgotten this feature of democratic society: there are times when you must be content to wait your turn. If you don't like the president, you wait until the next election and vote him out of office, you don't invent imaginary "crimes" and "misdemeanors" to accuse him of and remove him by that sort of force. The petulant and pre-adolescent attitude of some "progressives" is much the same today as it was in my day. These puerile children don't want to wait their turn, and they take it as an affront to their dignity to find that there are actually people out there who don't see the world the way they do. In fact, they get rather angry at such folks, thinking them strange, at best, or evil and immoral at worst.

Here's a rather striking example. I have a neighbor who teaches at the university. He and his wife have lived peacefully with us on this street for nine years. They often used to walk past my house while my family worked or played in the yard, and we would always exchange friendly greetings. We would chat. They even had us over to their house for dinner.

Then came the presidential election of 2004. We were raking leaves in our yard one day while they walked past, and they mentioned that they were getting excited about the election. My wife said that we were too, but jokingly added that our source of excitement was probably somewhat different from theirs, because of course we knew their politics. They were puzzled because, of course, they are typical academics who assume that anybody with a brain will be liberal. They were shocked to learn that we were planning to vote Republican. They haven't spoken to us since. At first we didn't really understand what was happening--I would pass one or the other of them on the street or on campus, and they would pointedly ignore me or look the other way. I mentioned it to my wife, who said that she had experienced the same thing. Finally we just plain asked them if something was going on, and the reponse was: "The election has been painful for a lot of people."

Being angry because other people aren't just like you is an attitude that I have come to expect in my four-year old daughter, for whom the whole world revolves around her passions and desires. Over the years I've come to expect it from self-styled progressives as well. I don't think my neighbors will try to burn down my house, of course, but it does not surprise me at all to find them having a "walk-out" from our previous relationship and boycotting us altogether. That is the progressive way: treat your enemies as though they are evil, rather than just different.

Don't be silly, someone might say. They don't think you're evil, they just don't want to talk to you any more than you want to talk to them. There are two reasons why this isn't an accurate description. First, most progressive actually admit to thinking that those who disagree with them are evil. Paul Halsall, a professor of medieval studies at North Florida State University, has said that all Republicans are "either stupid or evil", and virtually all of the graduate students in philosophy here at OU say much the same thing. Second, it simply is not the case that conservatives find the company of progressives distasteful. After all, I work in academia and virtually all of my friends are progressives, and I enjoy talking to them very much. I don't mind at all that they see the world differently than I do, even though I think they see it wrongly. Some of our conversations are heated, but on my own part it is never personal. I'm sure the same is true of some progressives, just as there are some conservatives who are not as open towards progressives as I am, but in my own experience there is a clear difference in the overall numbers involved here.

Are conservatives more mature than progressives? One doesn't want to generalize, but if I had to go on my own personal experience, nearly 30 years in academia has taught me that adolescent behavior is far more common on the left than on the right. So I'm not the least bit surprised to find students who think that walking out of classes is a good way to "learn" about politics, or that there are actually professors here at OU who urged their students to walk out of classes, excusing it as a "learning" experience. You'd have to be very puerile indeed to think that doing something stupid but emotionally satisfying is actually a learning experience.

I can't claim to be free of puerile instincts of my own, however. My wife and son will be returning on Sunday, and I can't wait to ask my son how one says "There are a lot of people on the balcony" in French.


dilexitprior said…
Il y a beaucoup de personnes sur le balcon.

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