It’s been a vivid week of signs and portents—and I don’t mean the spectacular eastern Iowa/western Wisconsin meteor shower or ominous and economically cataclysmic Icelandic volcano. A few personal anecdotes from the week follow, but I must say that your post today on the South African horror and your post on “flash mobs” here in the U.S.A. serve to punctuate my `observations. The fine if flawed fabric of Western Civilization is not only frayed but is actively being unwoven
by the descendents of those who understood clearly the necessity of mastering the art of living together in cities. As you and so many have warned for so long, the liberal mind set is ultimately suicidal.
First up, hooligans on the 2 and 3 train to take in the Tartan Day Parade on Sixth Avenue. A three-pack of late adolescents broadcasting gibberish hip-hop lingo at each other and everybody else in the car made a point of bouncing around to the jerky rhythm of the train, coming close and brushing nearby passengers, chests out when they did so, and leaping into and sprawling on the rapidly emptying seats at each stop. They had their third of the car to themselves when we exited at our stop. They clearly had made this little dance of theirs many times before, no doubt starting when they were six or seven. This, of a later morning Saturday.
Second, Monday afternoon: I ran into a neighbor I talk with every time I see him walking his dog Dodger. After a few pleasantries, this neighbor, an FDNY retiree—a 9/11 retiree—mentioned that if the NBA Nets team moves to nearby Boerum Hill, it will destroy Brooklyn Heights, where we both live. I said, Yes, well, the traffic, the parking. He said, No, it’s the people it will bring in. He said NYPD won’t be able to keep up with the ensuing game day incidents.
Third, Thursday, a class I taught in Manhattan to college freshman on Paul Bowles’ famous short story, “A Distant Episode,” the one where a linguist, a hot-house flower of Western Civilization, one day drifts too close to the subjects of his inquiry, a mounted tribal band in Morocco. Hunters. After the tribe cuts his tongue out, he is reduced to being a pathetic clown groveling in village dirt, an amusement for children, a babbling dog to be kicked and spat upon until he expires. One of the students noticed the irony of the tongue removal. Another said, Well, it’s their place; they can do what they want. Indeed. Others were repulsed, and, as often happens these days, I had to rein in students from discussion of one TV show or another. They do so want to be amused, at the sound of their own voices, at recollection of nonsense. (I have found, though, that Asian students in this class seem to get the “thin veneer of civilization” concept. Particularly students of Korean descent. White students, not so much. Black students keep their poker faces on.)
Finally, Friday, a class I taught here in the neighborhood to juniors and seniors, my introductory remarks to the last novel we are reading this semester, Richard Wright’s Native Son, a tale published in the late 1940s, set in Chicago, featuring as protagonist a cold-blooded black-male-on-white-female murderer. I devoted the second half of our session to individual conferences regarding what each student intended to choose as the thesis of their final paper. I’m sure there will be exceptions, but of the nine students I met with (there are 28 in the class) not a one wanted to write on Native Son. All the students I conferenced with that day were white, but I will be surprised if the lone black student in the class, a young woman who has a passion for American Modernists, will select Native Son. (Wright is a “naturalist,” a socialist, and our department committee replacement for William Faulkner, who is an American Modernist.) A generation ago, students would have chosen Wright—and avoided the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds like a (white) plague.
My conclusion? Avoid the subway at night and on weekends; don’t live near a professional basketball stadium.
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