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November 17, 1998


Jackasses Galore

Last Spring, Prathina Veeramachaneni, an international student at the University of South Alabama, wrote a short piece for The Vanguard titled "Naked Came the Strangers in the Night" (5/4/98). The story contained nothing, one would think, that could cause anyone to take offense. It simply stated in excellent English that during the winter quarter about 15 naked men, presumed to be from some unidentified fraternity, ran through several dorms in "full Monty" fashion. But on May 10 Campus Television aired "Conservative Left Wings," a show featuring Chris Hanes, then president-elect and now President of the Student Government Association (SGA), SGA Senator Jody Montelaro and guest Dan Moran (Chris Hanes's fraternity brother suspended from the university for academic reasons.) During the show Hanes, Montelaro, and Moran put on a horrendous display of Jackass thinking.

Ms. Veeramachaneni reasonably concluded in her brief article that the streaking was a fraternity prank; it's certainly the kind of thing fraternities are notorious for. For this mistake -- if indeed it was a mistake -- Hanes, Montelaro, and Moran, in their TV broadcast, drew some rather vicious conclusions, aspersing the character and good name of Ms. Veeramachaneni. Mr. Moran's remarks seem innocent enough initially; he says: "The United States trains most of the terrorists that work for foreign countries to help them develop weapons of mass destruction -- chemical weapons, nuclear weapons and biological weapons." Aside from the improbability that the U.S. trains most terrorists to use weapons of mass destruction, it is true that we have trained terrorists and counterinsurgency forces. But in taking this item apparently from Newsweek, Mr. Moran is not content simply to put it on the table; he leaps blithely to the conclusion that Ms. Veeramachaneni's story about the streakers is "propaganda," and that she "could actually be one of the 10 percent of the nation's terrorists that we educate in our schools." Moran then imputes that all international students are suspect because they [terrorists] come into the United States on student visas and they come here and they get their education." After these loony deductions with the loony statistic to support them, Mr. Hanes chimes in: "Don't even speak English." For him, apparently, anyone who can't speak the King's English is un-American and a dire threat to the nation.

The fact of the matter is that Ms. Veeramachaneni speaks the King's English far better than Mr. Hanes does, judging from her article and from having talked to her. Montelaro's and Hanes's English, judging from the transcript of the TV show where they repeatedly mispronounce her name and where it appears that Hanes's favorite slang word is the word "jacked up," is laced with fragments and gutter talk. From teaching technical writing for many years, I can tell you that the English of international students often surpasses that of American students, and international students, in my experience, rarely display the kind of jackass thinking that's displayed in the transcript of the TV show (see The Vanguard 5/25/98).

But my purpose in writing this editorial is not to dwell on the jackass mistakes of a few students who, according to the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dale Adams, sincerely regret their stupid remarks and have apologized to Ms. Veeramachaneni. My purpose is to point to the fact that jackass thinking and jackass reactions are escalating. True, they've always been with us, but the omnipresence, the constant intrusion of media that glorifies jackasses of all stripes including those from the looniest reaches of the American mass mind, is a cancerous phenomenon gnawing the vitals of the common good. Obviously, the students participating in the television program, "Conservative Left Wings," were doing the fashionable thing in imitating some talk shows featuring wiseacres who use their first-amendment rights to spout all sorts of rot. Well, the media wiseacres have the right and so too do students, but they don't have the right to defame the reputation of a fellow student and by imputation the reputation of all international students attending USA -- not unless they're itching to get sued.

In the Church of Reason, academia, we hold students to higher standards, evaluating their classroom performance in large part on how well they think critically because we believe that higher education should have as its basic purpose the reduction, if not the eradication, of the incidence of jackass thinking. And those of us teaching in these institutions, who take the vocation of teaching seriously, do our best to do just that. However, given the general tenor of the times, we find ourselves encountering more and more hostility from students who insist that they have the god-given right to think stupidly if they wish. Our rallying cry must be: "Yes, you do, but NOT in Academia." Yet, hardly a day goes by that we don't witness evidence of how poorly students understand what it is we would like them to learn. By their sullen resentment they are silently telling us: "Don't teach me how to think intelligently, teach me how to make a lot of money and do it quickly because I can't afford to take off too much time from my 40-hour-a- week job. And, don't expect me to show up for your boring classes."

And then to pour salt in our wounds, we discover an appalling example of jackass thinking displayed in our very midst by two student leaders, and one rusticated one. All the fine talk about how to improve higher education in Alabama misses the mark by a huge margin because in this state the preponderance of jackass thinking far outweighs all other kinds. Reducing the number of campuses and programs may do some minor good, but the major good will only come when local and state leaders begin to appreciate that our purpose is not primarily to produce more and better technocrats, bureaucrats, and managerial-crats but to raise the level of critical mind at large in the Republic, and though we have not yet failed entirely in this main effort, the obstacles to it are increasing daily.

Moreover, the perverse need to think stupidly escalates especially during times when the U.S. is pushed to the brink, and that's where Saddam has pushed us again. Every time we have one of these crises, Arab-Americans and other non-white people have to take cover for the duration least they be taken for the enemies in our midst and are scapegoated in some heinous fashion.

-- Tom Brennan

Life Forms by Dan Silver

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Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

America has never really had a totally dark political period with the exception of the McCarthy era of the 50's or the KKK era of the 20's and 30's. Our history is relatively mild compared to The torture of Edward the Confessor's crusades or Hitler, or the terribly cruel and unlimited license of the European monarchies. If we ever do go through such a period, and I pray that we don't, it will be brought to you by the religious right, of people like Ralph Reed or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. The religious right claims it wants to put God back in our government and society; by my estimation this makes them monarchists.

One of the great contributions that American democracy has made to world political thought is that it has found a way to make government accountable by liberating humanity from years of tyranny by kings, and basing government on its rightful obligation to its people, by and for them! Before that a government based on God allowed Kings by so-called divine right to commit any savage act they wanted to, including torture, unjust wars, and literally draining the country of all its resources. If a ruler is accountable only to God and is also the voice of God, then whole countries are subjugated to the sadistic whims of a power hungry maniac.

It was out of the background of this problem that the great political philosophers like Locke, Rousseau and Hobbs created what is known as the Social Contract. Witnessing the shear destruction of Europe by unchecked power-crazed rulers, these men devised a criteria by which societies could be protected from the slavery of God-based government. This criteria was eventually called Democracy, which was and still is an attempt to make government responsible to its citizens, by the people and for the people, and when government does not fulfill these responsibilities, it should and can rightfully be usurped. This social contract protects us from scoundrels who try to justify all manners of deceit and selfishness and disguise it as God's will. Since people are taught to fear God, they don't question God, the scoundrel. Realizing this, they can then take refuge behind the name of God and do anything they want without accountability to anyone as they lie and hide behind the sham of, "I am carrying out God's will." Pat Robertson claims to be a spokesman for God as does Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed, using the same banal justification to follow their own selfish power-hungry agenda as the kings of old, monopolizing the name of God giving them free reign to do anything to anyone else they want to advance their own personal/god platform.

And what exactly do they want to do, you ask? The most obvious answer to me is that they seek to turn our whole culture into a propaganda machine or more simply put, a free commercial for their version of Jesus, thus creating a closed ideological society much like Communist Russia, where everyone who isn't an exact clone of them should be beaten, excluded, starved out, punished or simply bored to death. If they are allowed to succeed, our society will be turned into a brain dead emotional hell: music, education, science, indeed our whole culture not serving the aesthetic needs of its citizens but consistently serving only to brainwash people with the party line, much like Communist Russia.

To suggest that God is pro-life or a Republican or Democrat or anything political is absurd. The book of John says that God is LOVE, simply pure and un-conditional love. It is here I believe the religious right makes their gravest error, that is, their definition of God. At Matthew Shepherd's funeral, there were members of the religious right taunting the mourners with rants like, "GOD HATES FAGS" and "HIS SOUL IS BURNING IN HELL." Well, as the old spiritual song states, "You could tell they were Christians by their LOVE." {haha}

To say that God is an angry God is a contradiction. Why would God punish people through his/her followers when, if he/she wanted to, he/she could simply bless them and transform them. Wouldn't that be infinitely easier than killing or hurting his/her own creation? God made everything that exists, so why would God divide against Himself. Also, If God Is omnipotent, then it is a contradiction to say that God is angry, because what force in the universe is so much more powerful than God that it could make him mad? If You were omnipotent, what possibly could you be mad at? If God became mad, then it would be a lie to say that God is omnipotent! Love cannot also be fear; anger is a form of fear.

Further, people who think they or anyone else have the power to make God mad are guilty of the sin of too much self-importance in my opinion. So to punish other people who don't belong to your church and say that it is a victory for God is an absurdity! Deluded by the imaginary guilt heaped upon them by a false angry god, the Christian right is forced to punish and even kill others to appease its idolatry; that is, they lay human sacrifices on their God's altar of anger and guilt.

A third mistake made by the Christian Right with their false notion of an angry God is one of using this angry God as an excuse to deflect their feelings and emotional responsibility. Morality laws of the 10 Commandments, etc. are designed to make our lives easier and to facilitate our spiritual growth, back toward remembering our spiritual heritage. If we fail to live up to our true identity as spiritual beings by forgetting to behave spiritually, then we simply punish ourselves. When we make a mistake, rather than admitting it and being responsible for how we feel about our own actions, we deflect that emotional responsibility into an angry god and pretend we offend him, when in reality we only offend ourselves and do not want to face up to it.

So not only does the Religious Right make the mistake of confusing love with fear by falsely believing in an Angry God, but it also uses the notion of a punishing god to deflect feelings which they find Inconvenient. This is called co-dependence with God. Why should religion have to practice such bad psychology and call that righteousness?

In closing I would just like to say to Pat, Jerry, and Ralph that government based on God was what we had for literally thousands of years in history, and we have seen enough proof that it does not work. The teachings of Jesus suggest that he who is without sin should cast the first stone and to judge not lest we be judged ! A government based on God simply institutionalizes the persecution and judgementalness that Jesus warned us against with these parables. And if you are going to continue to teach persecution of so-called sinners like homo-sexuals, then the blood of innocent people like Matthew Shepherd will be on your hands, for irresponsibly leading the masses to genocide!! Just like Charles Manson.

Mark Pfaff
Nashville, TN

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