The Final Word Against Campus Safe Spaces

You know.. I really hate going to the gym. I don't go very often. When I do, I tend to exercise for a short length of time. Why? Doesn't feel good. It's strenuous. Tedious. I don't care for it. If someone had a single day left to live and they wanted to make sure they feel every second of it, I would recommend any type of physical work-out as a good way to make that day feel like an eternity.

But get this. You know what I love? Watching Netflix. Eating junk food. Being told I'm right by people on television. Feels great. Compared with going to the gym, my couch seems like a no-brainer.

Only one problem -- I end up emerging from each new year as basically the same person. Which would be great if I were perfect. But that's the thing with my generation. My parents didn't have to deal with a war or a great depression, so they were free to spend lots of time with me and tell me they loved me every day. With too many needs met too early, self-improvement was never allotted much mental or emotional bandwidth.

But it turns out that comfort is oppressive. It's a spider web, snaring the central nervous system into an illusion of freedom. (It's literally the Matrix. Remember how much the bald guy loved that fake steak?)

Now luckily, because I was an obsessive over-eater since preschool and my chubby physique neutralized my athletics, I was spared the often fatal personality-guillotine of being great at sports. But the damage had been done. I still had the self confidence to make a decent amount of friends, and that's super great for any high-schoolers who don't want to prioritize studying.

In 2001, the world of academia -- which always boasted the modest liberal bias that comes naturally with any amount of reading, discussion and thought -- was still a refreshing contrast to the American mire of Jesus and guns.

Skip to 2016, and universities have lost their fucking mind.

I feel the need to constantly remind the more organic, non-gmo sector of liberal thinkers that there's a difference between safety and health. My staying home from the gym -- plenty safe. (In fact, at my weight and cardiovascular age, it's probably safer than strenuous activity.) But boy is it unhealthy.

Safety is the concern taken to make sure significant injury doesn't occur in any given fell swoop. Health is the strengthening of the underlying framework.

The thing about health is that it's empowering. It allows for greater variety of life experiences and personal agency. But it's a huge bummer to achieve and maintain.

Safety is important but it's also the death of narrative. It's a hedgefund that wagers memories against a trip to the hospital. It's sterile and facile but incredibly relaxing.

A university is supposed to be an intellectual gym. You're supposed to shed the cognitive baby fat from however many generations your family lived on the same block, and experience the mental equivalent of world travel at eighteen years of age.

In the physical world, people need to be protected. This is especially true of women and minorities, because white males (like me) are sorta the reason we can't have nice things. In the realm of meat and bones, we're all as special as our mommies and daddies told us, and we require health-care, shelter, food, crisis-therapy, companionship, etc. etc.

But in the intellectual world, it's ideas that are important and your own identity is beyond worthless.

I really don't have the writing talent to stress that last part enough. I'll make it easier by putting it on myself. My voice, my gender, my religion, my ethnicity.. BEYOND WORTHLESS. It's in caps now. It can't be overstated.

Anything of value we have to contribute will rise to the top of the discussion by virtue of its own merit -- we're merely conduits, meaty incubators for those select projects and experiences which might just help further human understanding so we can end needless suffering and explore space.

Everything else will rightfully be forgotten for all eternity.

Social justice war and identity politics are fine, even important, in a certain context. That context is civil rights. But -- like their cousin, affirmative action -- they can be compared to cancer-treatment. An appropriate and targeted dose of radiation or chemotherapy is necessary to raze the rotting infrastructure. But an endless system-wide battery of chemo or radiation will rot all the infrastructure on its own, and right quick. Which is basically the intellectual and emotional situation we have on campuses today.

Colleges are only supposed to be physically safe spaces. But they need to be intellectually dangerous. Dangerous ideas are very important. Think of knowledge as birthing process. You know what feels comfortable? Staying in the womb. You know what's incredibly loud, bright, harsh, dank, sometimes exhilarating, often depressing, and ultimately fatal? Being born. But you need to actually breech the chrysalis. The event is never pleasant.

I feel no small amount of empathy for girls in college who have been raped and then have to sit through class discussions about whether rape is an appropriate topic for satire. Or LGBT students whose puberties were an unparalleled hellscape of pain and confusion. Those are undeserved emotional handicaps, and they should get every ounce of extra consideration outside the classroom doors. But the sad truth is that college is a gym. If you show up with a handicap to a gym, it's perfectly acceptable for you to sit out certain workouts. But to create a climate where everyone is encouraged to just sorta take it easy, in order not to alienate anyone... Then it's no longer a gym for adults. It's gym theatre performing the illusion of growth.

If you attempt to honor everyone's beliefs and everyone's feelings, you run into trouble when it comes time to convince people to fund a super-collider in Texas. Beliefs, feelings, and identities are the precise reason Galileo dragged his feet on insisting that the earth revolved around the sun. (Now there's ten years of history we sure wish we could have back!) Pluralism is a concept, and every concept requires trial by fire in a university building designed for the sole purpose of amassing and carving away negative space from the sculpture of human knowledge.

The next time someone complains about cultural appropriation, remind them that cultures are fun, not important. And certainly not sacred. The only thing important about them are whatever elements they generate which help advance a spirit of insufficiency regarding yesterday's wisdom. They're a buffet; if yoga helps a college professor better explain to 18 year-olds why Vishnu isn't real, then yoga is the nut. If you're a post-op transexual, you deserve all the dignities of adult life, of which first and foremost is the fact that nobody's sexuality matters and genitals are stupendously meaningless.

Good talk. I have to go hit the gym and work off thirty three years of churros with forty five minutes on a goddamn gerbil wheel.

The Case for Pearl Jam

"Daily minefields, [this] could be my time, [how] 'bout you?"

Today I was watching some youtube on my TV, sampling the myriad live rock videos available for your nostalgia pleasures. During a performance of Sleep of No Dreaming by Porcupine Tree, I blurted out to my wife, "It's sorta depressing watching these middle-aged guys rocking out..." This was curious because I didn't feel the same mixed deflation when I saw much older guys rocking out at last year's The Who concert in Philly.

Perhaps the elderly are expected -- or at least permitted -- to come full-circle, realizing a child-like mentality that middle age men just don't fit. Or maybe it's because I happen to know that The Who wrote a lot of those songs while they were still idiots. I don't know how old Steven Wilson was when he wrote the profoundly troubling Sleep of No Dreaming but seeing his band sell it, seemingly in their 40s, was weirdly disheartening. 

I immediately reached for my phone (which controls youtube on my TV) and searched for a Silverchair performance of Tomorrow circa 1994. I needed some youth. I needed some brainlessness. I needed some raw emotion, one-dimensionally joyful or angry (and I had already watched some Ok Go and live Flaming Lips earlier, so joy was covered).

Middle age is not a time for raw emotion. It's a time for thinking, for getting things done, for paying attention to your shit, for adulting. It's not until we're into our thirties that we begin to realize what a precious commodity our former stupidity was. (Which is not to say that my IQ has gone up because I'm older, but I have just enough life wisdom to know that tomato is a fruit but it shouldn't go in fruit salad. That, and I'm expected to sell smart and reliable to the outside world.)

I watched Silverchair nervously wail their answer to Nirvana at age 14 and gleefully dug on youthful nonsense, I wondered if Pearl Jam's 1992 performance of Porch on SNL is on youtube yet? If you want the raw emotion of punk, with the bittersweet qualities of blues and political angst all in one fell swoop, you'd be hard pressed to do better than Porch. (Especially their SNL cut.)

Middle age is not the age for rock stars. Ideal rockers are either youthful and passionate or elder statesmen. They're not your uncle or the guy who works at the DMV. They're either young and dumb or old and legendary. 

It's either Ozzy in '68 or Ozzy today. 

Pearl Jam is the inverse. They've always been old souls, wise before their time with a sense of longview and a nuanced blend of rage and gratitude. And now in their early 50's they're still screaming and thrashing on their instruments like manic vandals. They still perform Do The Evolution regularly. They were never one-dimensionally young, but at dad-age, they're still bafoons. Their music has matured with them. It's not a bummer that their post-Yeild material has sometimes been less interesting. Their music is incredibly personal, and middle age may be simply a less interesting time. Shit, the entire theme of Yield in wake of losing a court battle with Ticketmaster was learning to tolerate the push-pull of ideals and reluctant pragmatism.

Pearl Jam are great rock stars at age 50 because they've always been regular dudes, feeling everything's fucked up while marveling in youth and solidarity. They're fans. They love basketball and punk and classic rock. Many of their most memorable live moments are covers of other peoples' songs. And their sense of patriotism in the face of a brutal Bush era required a subtlety that could never be as sexy as straight rock idealism from Noam Chomsky or a 12th grader.

To put it plainly, Pearl Jam's music is the rock of real life. It's the simultaneous melody of torture and hope. It's the rock 'n roll avatar of Andy Dufresne. It's September 11th, and it's also surfing and fucking and laughing. It feels but it also thinks, which makes it less sexy and more authentic.

Pearl Jam is "delight in our youth!" and it's also "the wisdom that the old can't give away."

To quote Young Frankenstein... It's ALIVE!