It has been more than sixty years since Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army. Everyone born in that year has entered or will enter, officially, bureaucratically, old age. Generations do generate and then de-generate. Generations after do or do not re-generate the old, the before, the previous, all of them the not now, the not new.
The greatest horror of the Second World War, bureaucratic mass murder, has persisted in our age. It is everywhere today, only it has changed its form, but not of its essence, as energy in the universe does die, is not destroyed but merely changes form. In the form of an over-arching world bureaucracy that insists we collectivize, that we manage through numericalization, thereby diminishing our integrity as separate human beings, thereby diminishing our humanity, each us integral by his or her singularity . . .
The physics of stars is correlative with human nature; we do grow old and dense and collapse within ourselves before we die. No? Nothing escapes; everything that comes within our event horizon gets crushed. We do also seek the comfort of the herd, we do understand protection only in terms cows would comprehend if they could step out of their instincts and enter human thinking. I have witnessed reasonably intelligent people oppose former President Bush by marching en masse in Manhattan, marching slowly and chanting monosyllabically, as if not being beaten by the cops with truncheons and riot hats doesn’t play into the hands of the state. We flatter ourselves, we do; and it does. We compare ourselves to King or to Ghandi, as if anything were the same for us as it were for them; but I exaggerate, don’t I? Evoking King and Gandhi in our America is a proper and proportionate thing to do; historical perspective is beyond subjective.
America is home to one new solipsist after another, each from any corner of the world, as we are from all corners. I adhere to the existence of Truth, the big ‘T’ variety, even if I shy away from asserting it’s self-evident, as easily as Jefferson had the fundamentals of our freedom; and our freedoms were truths he took to be self-evident. But then, Jefferson could declare the truths of the Declaration to be self-evident; there was space for that rhetoric to be received, but even if the space today is a lot narrower than it was in Jefferson’s 18th century, space for this rhetoric does exist nonetheless, and perhaps it will take a bit of tenacity by those of us who still cling to the notion of this as self-evident.
If one tenth of any marchers anywhere I had seen chanting monosyllabically against the war in Iraq had written an especially individualized and intelligent, even an articulate letter to his or her congressman–but do we write anymore? Can we? The most essential feature in the advancement of our civilization hasn’t the credibility it once had, and that comes from decades of teaching freshmen comp in our colleges here in New York, and I’m not referring to the students but to the professors in our English Departments. The once ago relevance in education movement had taken us away from writing at what we once called advanced literacy; advanced literacy had been declared elitist, and where it was not referred to as elitist, it was at least white and male and thereby an obstacle to racial and gender equality and democratic rule everywhere. No War, Peace Now, Send the Troops Home . . . a thousand times circumnavigating Union Square Park one Saturday afternoon, as the great unwashed chanted; this great unwashed was what reactionary conservatives from the seventies used to call protesters, but therein that day it was true–a motley, grimy, dusty, even dirty mass of protesters they were. My humanity was offended as my liberal inclinations supported them in their futility. Say this chant, though, one hundred and twenty-seven times in an afternoon while holding a badly illustrated placard on a stick . . . placards are about all we can read. How could you help but feel as if you were helping the cause of liberalism? I can’t get my tongue out of my cheek.
Fifty per cent of NYC high school graduates still read below grade. How is that possible except in an elitist society that must be saying under its breath, cream will rise to the top, we do not have educate, it does not matter if we systematically under-educate? The fact that so many African Americans are on board with a systematic under-education rooted in hideen, cloaked or unconscious racist ideas that young African Americans in the inner cities of America cannot meet the older elitist standards set by whites only points to how little any of us have a clue as to where our political interests are. We used to set “on grade” as the lowest standard to achieve; now it has become an accomplishment for even some of whom we have come to re-call elite in our public schools; oh! the gifted. Most of my child’s classmate’s parents will roll their eyes upon reading this, either from their immigrant fear and inclination to adopt the most knee jerk conservative responses politically, or most likely, they will not understand what I’m saying. I do see literacy slipping from the people I have worked for, worked with, worked under; but many of my child’s classmates parents just don’t have the English necessary, and too many of whom would teach them, if the non-native had the inclination to learn, do not either. This inclination is never as high as advocates for ESOL learning say, nor never as low as opponents of ESOL learning claim. What passes for remedial instruction in community colleges is often not intended to be better than what we still sponsor in our high schools. I have taught there for more than a decade and a half. If democracy is slipping–and it is–it is because we who want it have confused it for collectivism, a kind of mass appeal to the masses; a public instead of a people, something anything always before people. Students have become patrons; that is how it has been translated through every overly bureaucratized administration of whatever public service we speak about; administrators themselves see nothing they say or support or blindly adhered to, anything that comes from whatever mandate is stamped from on high, as part of the problem of making everything about business.