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Friday, February 13, 2015

I wrote to Elizabeth Hayes


Hi Elizabeth,

In a new article, I brought up 1984 and got this response from an "Andy Perry":

"Believing that the Anglo Saxon sex fantasy '1984' is a serious political book and trying to base an analysis upon it, is the very definition of bourgeois!"

So even being middle class, which I'm not even, is to be guilty among these armchair Communists, and I'm sure this man thinks himself very clever for calling 1984 an "Anglo Saxon sex fantasy"! See, Elizabeth, you've been teaching pornography all this time!

Elizabeth Hayes responds:

Well, I'd be teaching Henry Miller if I could, but some "post-modern" professor by the name of Jones, the first infiltrator from that baffled school at CSU way back in the 80s, told me it was pornography. When I told him that I'd noticed that little children I knew who'd grown up on welfare always seemed far brighter than little children who grew up in middle class homes, he said that that was interesting and such children should be adopted into middle class homes. I think he missed my point.

What an asshole. Not just for those remarks, but also for what came next. This was the mid-80s, and I was for the first time a grad-ass taking Jones's class, and when I turned in my final he asked me out, very not cool. Actually, though, he asked me if I was going to have lunch, and I said yes and I thought was OK. I assumed he meant in the student union, and there's nothing at all objectionable, as far as I saw then anyway, with having lunch with a professor in the student union. So I was walking with him there but he steered right, and a bit confused, I walked along. He walked me toward a pricey joint some blocks away and I just went along. That he had my grade in his hand wasn't really it; frankly I was somewhere between curious and baffled as to how to respond. Anyway, I had a nice free lunch and that was that, I thought.

I didn't hear from him until the fall, when I found out that during the summer he'd managed to talk my thesis advisor, a really socially incapable intellectual type, to turn me over to his advisorship. I found this out when Jones called me into his office, explained it all to me, and gave me an outline of exactly what he wanted me to say in my thesis. As he was saying this he was staring at my legs. I wasn't exactly dressed sluttily, in case you're wondering--I was wearing a baggy sweater and a loose skirt that came to my knees and opaque tights and a pair of men's dress shoes--this is one of those memories when you remember stuff, and I was a bit astonished that he was looking at me like that as I was trying to talk lit shop. He'd been dating this other grad-ass, a pretty but frankly stupid young woman, and it looked like he'd decided I'd be her replacement. He explained that I would be watching his toddler daughter, Yulia, while finishing this thesis of, er, mine?

Nobody would ever characterize me as an extremely sensible type, but I decided to decline his offer. That wasn't hard; unlike a lot of female college students, I didn't think fucking a professor was a good idea, not unless I really wanted to fuck him anyway; and besides, I found him repulsively grandiose; but given that a lot of those young women would have taken the offer with glee, I just walked away and did not notify the authorities. The entire department had watched him have a quite open affair with the last grad-ass, so I assumed they knew what was up with Prof. Jones, and if somebody else wanted the vacancy, I figured we're all adults. Besides, I avoid authorities whenever possible. I ended up dropping out for a time to become a fake economist--aren't they/we all?

Fast forward a decade. I'm at a party, and this woman Clara who was getting her PhD in mathematics out in some western US state had come back to Cleveland for a visit. She was talking a bunch of postmodernist literary theory, which I found strange for a mathematician. Then she started talking about her attempts to get her daughter back from her ex-husband, who had abused her and lied to the courts about her abandoning her daughter when she had only split for the refuge of a women's shelter for a couple of days because he was beating her up and she was horribly depressed from a couple of years of abuse. I put two and two together and asked if her daughter's name was Yulia.

Well, then the story came out. Yes, that was Clara's daughter Jones was asking me to take care of while I wrote his, er my thesis. Jones hadn't gotten tenure at CSU, and had not gotten tenure at a string of universities since, but at each one he'd found some grad-ass to accept the deal he'd offered me.

Clara finally got her daughter back when Yulia was 13, already richly tatooed and pierced. Jones had had this long string of women do all the research for some book he never completed or never got accepted or whatever, and by the end he was stalking a number of them and finally got arrested exposing himself in front of one of those women's apartment building, probably in the same leather trenchcoat he used to parade himself around in way back at CSU. He was for a time working with poor youth in Los Angeles, not exactly a boon to those kids, as Jones was a total snob despite all his drivel about class consciousness and attacking the bourgeoisie (which is why, in case you were wondering, I dredged this old story out of my memory banks--he was a classic asshole intellectual ideologue). I Iost sight of the tale because Clara and Yulia moved to DC when Clara finally got her PhD and a job as a code-cracker for the CIA. It sounds like I'm making this shit up, but I'm not.

I suppose I should have stood up for my sisters and gotten Jones in trouble. Maybe. But here's the killing thing. While I was having that first conversation with Clara, she and her friends kept on asking me what had gone on during my "affair" with Jones. I kept saying I didn't have an affair with Jones, and then five minutes later they'd be asking me the same thing. This happened several times before I was able to convince them that, no, I did not have an affair with the asshole. Apparently I was the only one who hadn't. I mean, the offer was pretty bald, and numerous women took him up on it? They'd formed a sort of support group in the midst of Clara contacting them as Jones moved from one to the next, and the next. She was desperately trying to track her daughter.

What's the moral of this story? I dunno, quite, except the way people perceive each other and themselves according to ideology seems really askew to my muddled brain. Plus I assume you like interesting anecdotes on the human squabble. Clara, as far as I could tell, had gotten into an abusive marriage when she was very young for whatever reason, LUV I'm guessing from talking to her, but all those other women can't really be counted as victims as far as I'm concerned. If somebody asks you to put a dog collar on with a leash attached and you do, then you've agreed to be a dog, so don't complain that you've been jerked around. Particularly if you have other options, like cleaning houses.

Among those really creepy comments on ICH, the one by "Guest" kills me, the one that starts with "So I take it you don't support Cuba Linh? Surely you are not a proponent of Blair's 3rd way! What government or system do you support? You`re not one of those squeaky clean anarchist types whose ideal society exists only in the realm of theory?" He wants to know what side your family was on. You were how old?

He proves your point: he wants to know what tribe you arose from. He says he's living in Vietnam himself: "If things are so bad in Userland maybe you should come back to Vietnam. I'm sure your yank twang wont be out of place with all the other Viet Kieus who are once again taking up their rightful place at the top of the scrapheap!" Sure, Linh, you're just one more fucking capitalist pig. Praxis is messy, he says, and I think, what, like Pol Pot? Am I to believe he is writing from Vietnam, or am I just being paranoid in thinking that he said that because it sounded better than telling you to go back there, where you belong? Who knows? But surely your perceptions are inconvenient to the armchair communist, not only the endorsement of what Orwell had to say about betrayal in revolutions, but also your remarks about how, as the food is pulled away, the masses will not come together in some national, let alone global, utopia, but will instead band together in their own little tribes.

Sometimes I tell ardent lefties that they might want to figure out why people on the right reference 1984 as often as people on the left. Ideology can indeed make people blind and stupid, as somebody on your blog said. Who do these angry young men of ICH think you are, some elitist propagandist infiltrating their little virtual enclave? Indeed they must. It’s hard to discern where blindness due to ideology ends and just blatant excuse for being a nasty asshole begins. The threads can be brutal, and I seldom read the ICH ones, let alone post there. Talk about yer roving band! When discussing Israel, they don't even pretend that it's not about hating Jews.

I did respond to that guy who called 1984 an "Anglo Saxon sex fantasy" with "Maybe you're the one who wrote of the NSA some time ago that privacy is so bourgeois?" I can't remember where I read that comment about privacy--it was on an article somebody emailed me. But on the ICH thread in question, another poster wrote that "Putting theory into practice is a messy business Linh but you have to support the one that ticks most of the boxes." Right. Who creates this little form with the boxes to check? Is romance, family, privacy, freedom of thought, speech and action on there? If so, how are they weighted, and again, who's doing the weighting?

I’m certainly no ideologue, and don’t pretend to know which social engineering will make people content and peaceful, if any, although I have plenty of ideas about what’s fucked up. Don’t we all? But I do think that a lack of empathy is at the crux, and as I see the schools dictate less and less literature and more and more science, I sense something chilling. Literature teaches empathy just by the fact that the reader puts himself in the protagonist’s shoes, and empathy is not all about being nice. It’s about trying to bridge one’s understanding beyond one’s desires and point-of-view, and as far as I can see, nobody can assess situations without it, not with any modicum of sanity. You’ve written about the idea that we are really one, and our connectivity is cut so that we see each other as discrete organisms—or more to the point, discrete mechanisms, as nearly all investigations into cognitive science will have it. It was through trying to write stories that I came to see that we must really love our enemies--because in taking the usual advice that the writer must love all her characters, even the most vile, I saw that without doing so my stories did not read as true.

I originally started posting for two main reasons: first, I began reading the news and various people’s responses more carefully as the 21st century began with irrational rationales for the massive military invasions, and their hugely enthusiastic endorsement; and second, I wanted to disabuse the progressives of their notions that Amerikan public schools and the mental health industry are unmitigated goods. I’ve spent time in schools of all types, and known people from all types, and read the unschoolers and deschoolers and met homeschoolers and some amazing autodidacts, and it’s clear to me that the public schools are not designed to create capable, discerning, loving and tolerant individuals who could begin to create a healthier, more equitable society. As for the mental health industry, I’m a psychiatric survivor and have listened to the fake science blither blather about the wonders of psych meds and have personally seen many people suffer and die in their hands. And I’ve been appalled by how many of my students have been put on psych meds from early ages. First of course it was the ADHD “epidemic,” and now I’m getting reports from the ground of very young children diagnosed bipolar and schizophrenic, and are now fed massively powerful psych meds to “help” them. They are doing this quite a bit among the poor, and the fact that poor families get extra money from the government for having a kid with a disability is a spur for people to get their kids diagnosed. Few psychiatrists, or even pediatricians, will not feed into this game. The supporters of these measures show up regularly on progressive sites shilling for more public funding because there are so many more people who need this tender care.

More people on these progressive sites are coming around to my understanding, but when I started making my arguments online I was called a right wing bitch hag paid plant etc for a couple of years. These ideas did not fit into their orthodoxy, and I could easily be lumped in with the right because my perceptions were indeed being voiced mostly in Amerika by right libertarians, so they HAD to be wrong. If I felt them to be correct, that meant I must also be a capitalist pig in all its manifestations. Well, a lot of ideas have blown in from the libertarians to the left, and I was taught to look at all sides of an argument, and to consider arguments openly (how elitist of me). I do not think they are wrong about everything, but even if I did I would not close my ears to all they say, if for no other reason that without open dialogue there’s little chance of convincing people on the right to see things differently. In any case, I’m convinced of the vital need to debunk everything, even what I most firmly believe, because enchantment is dangerous. I can imagine how effective these leftists are in opening the eyes of the people around them to advance their cause of revolution: it seems to me they wouldn’t be able to get two sentences out without sparking offense.

But the ideologue, whether left or right, will disregard what is happening before their eyes, they will filter out all lessons of history that are inconvenient to their visions, they will see all art as propaganda (except that which they endorse). I’ll tell you straight—if people like those posters on ICH ever got hold of the reins of power, we would be looking at a world very like 1984. I may be wrong, because like all mortals I live in a state of existential bafflement, but such types seem to look at society as if from far above, like Harry in The Third Man.

Well, enough of that. There was a lot in that Postcard and the responses to it that I’m still trying to figure out. In your Postcard, you write about not wanting to immediately assume that someone snubbing you is racist. I think that's necessary, not just to keep yourself somewhat sane but also to keep from falling into a victim mentality, which really smashes the spirit. It reminds me of that wonderful essay by James Baldwin, "Notes of a Native Son," where he nearly drives himself to murder, and being murdered, by refusing to back down and accept his N status.

And it reminded me of some other things, like the way identity politic wonks have so championed their causes that it has become fashionable to consider oneself a victim—like the women I wrote about last time. It also reminded me of an article on truthout which I responded to with another anecdote, this one about a sociopathic black woman who played political correctness to try to get an A, along the way unhinging a class, screwing over her black "sisters," and trying to get me fired, as an example of how easily people can play victim to force administrations' hands.

Somebody responded that "And the plural of anecdote is not data," and when somebody suggested he was being stupid he called my post "logorrhea masquerading as an anecdote and presented as evidence." There, that's what the ideologues say to anything that happens in life that interferes with their beliefs.



Linh Dinh said...

Hi Elizabeth,

The man who's trying so hard to denounce me as somehow an enemy of the people, he's been at it for a while and posts variously as "Manfred Noa," "Manfred" or just "Guest."

The dude is a cyber stalker, basically.

I don't think he lives in Vietnam, moreover, although he's trying hard to sound knowledgeable about it. Vietnamese of all political stripes would laugh at his naive observations about Communism or Vietnam. Vietnamese Communists would laugh at him. This man assumes authority from reading a few books. I doubt if he talks to actual working class people.


x larry said...

interesting letter, elizabeth. i read the ich posts, all of them, and was reminded of reading posts everywhere--perhaps even my own. there is more than a little bit that is strange about online 'conversations'! also, so many do come across as wankers, ideologues (interesting comments on ideology by elizabeth), stool pigeons, or just totally clueless. i think anyone who watches t.v. for a lifetime is more or less clueless. but it's all so complicated. or is it? there are so many things out there that have one purpose, to confuse people. their methods are very sophisticated, they have done studies on mass psychology for over two hundred years, since the modern school system began and since bentham's panopticon model of society (those last two from foucault for anyone that didn't know). but their methods are mainly just brutal--even up to including such concepts and terms and realities as brutalist architecture: what hideous stuff. i think they are always trying to lower the bar, to see just how low they can sink us.
childhood is the key to this, and they leave no stone unturned there. i appreciate elizabeth's comments on this as well--i have become very interested in it since having a child. the first thing perhaps that shocked me (and what shocked me just as much was that i had never been shocked by it before) was Mandatory education. say what? who the fuck is the guvmint or absolutely anyone, including the kids' own grandparents, to tell me how to raise my kid? how can people possible accept that someone has that right? but they do. and they also blindly and readily accept that they must send their kid to school (nursery) at age 3 or even younger, that they need to rush to make sure their kid can read and is being 'taught' (programmed). i can't go more into this now, it is endless. but just in case yours have slipped through the cracks, there is t.v., the great babysitter.
i'll stop there. i see the point about ideology and i think that it, like pretty much everything, has to be fought at every turn, within our own psyches. but to me the first step in a true revolution, even a peaceful one, is to know our great enemy--our owners. they own the land, they print the money, and they own our minds. also, i don't like the term 'anglo-saxon' being thrown around by everyone--again, as i myself have done too much. but there is a book i'd recommend, 'the anglo-american conspiracy', available online, by bill clinton's georgetown professor, i forget his name. it will show anyone interested just how few people control the rest, and how they do it--by controlling our minds, from schools to religion to media to all books published (or almost all). i recently had a chance to make my own buttons at a 'people's assembly' in brighton uk, and one i made was 'if it's published, it's suspect'. typically obscure as my wife says of my saying, but oh well. cheers,

Anonymous said...

When one of the usual suspects on TruthOut, and I speak of the regular columnists. writes something empty (in the Vonnegut sense of wax fruit) and the reader feels put upon, why doesn't this drive away readership? I'd say addiction is what the big D blogs have going for them.

Leo said...

Elizabeth, Linh

This was a great op-ed.

Your expressed bafflement concerning the ideologues of the left are spot on. We always know who they are and what their problem is, though tend to ignore them if they have some of our shared values.

However, stupid people are stupid no matter what part of the spectrum. Their problem is not so much as misunderstanding as being incapable of understanding in the first place. To truly know the issue is to see all its levels at once. For instance, we can take velocity for granted and debate all the time about where we are going and love it or hate the direction and speed. But that cannot be truly valued or comprehended without recognizing the first and second derivatives or the integrals, for that matter.

Which brings me to another point. I for one am glad that science is being pushed more aggressively. Literature and art are good and all, but its not taught properly. In fact, you cannot teach someone what art is. That would be akin to indoctrinating. That is essentially what happens in all high-schools and universities, both public and private. And when you really try to dissect the art, the words, the perspective and projection, they crucify you.

Which is why science is so important. In learning how to be a scientist, one learns how to balance all sides at once. People fear science because it tends towards optimization, which is perceived as some soulless scalpel approach. But it is not, believe me. Optimization is more about balancing the disadvantages based on a complete analysis of the truth. By learning how to do this, it can be applied to art and really free people from the millenniums of interpretation and egos that accompany all such subjective forms of communication.

And by the sciences, I exclude any statistics based studies (biology, cognitive science, economics, psychology, medicine, etc, anything that relies on statistically based models) and include the pure sciences based on the principles of discovery and the lack of free-parameters (chemistry, physics, engineering).

Then again, to truly understand the aim of science and apply it to the abstract world is extremely difficult and, like everything else, is beyond some.

Anyway, I really liked your article. You, Elizabeth and Linh, have really hit home on a lot of fronts and I greatly appreciate and enjoy reading everything on this journal. I think one of the big reasons that you are vilified by the zealot-class is because you are telling the unadulterated version of events.

Keep on keeping on.


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Leo,

Thanks for your comment. It is sad to see the degradation of education. Before, a high school graduate would have had studied chemistry, physics and biology, as well as geometry, trigonomery if not calculus. As for literature, he would have been exposed to some serious writers. School would have taught him to think analytically, as well as imaginatively and emotionally. Now, only a few kids have a rounded education. The rest don't just get an inadequate education, however, but often a damaging or even poisonous one.


X said...


I read this piece late and I'm not sure if you'll get a chance to read this. I work in the sciences as well and I have to disagree that it inherently teaches people to approach all sides at once. Maybe it does teach them that, but from what I observe, it only appears to do that with respect to their work. When it comes to social issues and politics, scientists are just as vulnerable to magical thinking like anyone else. I recommend Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt (a Physics PhD)

There is something to Elizabeth's (and Linh's) notion that literature helps to expand one's understanding beyond one's desires and to help think more emotionally.and imaginatively. I will not say it is a panacea, because it isn't one, but it's just as important as the sciences.


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I lived mostly in the US from 1975 until 2018, but have returned to Vietnam, where I live in remote Ea Kly. I've also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), a novel, Love Like Hate (2010), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), and six collections of poems, with a Collected Poems apparently cancelled by Chax Press from external pressure. I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in Tokyo, London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.