My alma mater wants me to write two pages about my college experience fifty years ago

The purpose is transparent – put me into a generous mood. Thinking about it in fact tightens my grip on my purse strings. This is a draft of what I have written. Will accept suggests for editing it.

I have a new life in Kiev. Remarried, with a three-year old son Eddie. Oksana and I built a house together. I starting learning Russian at age 64, and we have a wide circle of Russian-speaking (and Russia-despising) friends.

Over the course of a 25-year marriage I raised a family in Bethesda, Maryland. My ex-wife and children adopted the values of that place. The children’s self-esteem was constantly stroked. They were all too infrequently chastised, disciplined, or questioned. None of the schools, my spouse or the society around wanted to do it. I could not fight the tide. Two turned out as poster children for the millennial generation: self-absorbed, unambitious solipsists. They smoke, drink, swear, and are physically out of shape. They have little respect for, and feel no obligation to, their elders or the society that bore them. Only the third has married and gotten a real job. Not coincidentally, she has totally rejected the doctrinaire (read, Reed College-like) liberalism that surrounded her as she grew up.

Kiev is not a liberal place by the modern American meaning of that word. They have nothing in particular against homosexuals and racial minorities; they simply do not frequently encounter them. They like who they are and do not see any point in celebrating diversity. They are unselfconsciously religious. They call themselves spiritual and soulful – synonymous to me, but not them. They may not know the Bible as well as I do, but they are better Christians.

Kiev’s lack of diversity results in great deal of social capital. Neighbors, even strangers on the street and the bus, take a great interest in my child. It can be rather intrusive. If they think he is underdressed for the weather they will tell me. Though I chafe, it is all for the good that my son is growing up in a society that will look out for him, to which he will truly belong. Kievyans, like me, are horrified at the way an uncontrolled influx of foreigners has made life so much less pleasant for natives of Paris, London and Barcelona. We like Kiev the way it is.

I am a lifelong conservative in most senses of the word. Like Thoreau I want to conserve nature. I would like to conserve traditional American values and respect for the Enlightenment thinkers. I would like to conserve the world’s resources – cut down on driving and the size of houses, and to use a bicycle and public transport.

I have a libertarian resentment of other people telling me how to live, and am loath to impose my own ideas on others. This makes me unsuited for urban life in modern America, so rich that any idiot can afford a Hummer, an ATV, a jet ski and an RV. Use of these aesthetically unappealing, environmentally catastrophic devices must, unfortunately be controlled. I have chosen to live where these intrusive inventions are less abundant. Poverty means government has less of an excuse and fewer tools to intrude in my life.

As a conservative, I believe it is wise to follow Kant’s categorical imperative, and not embark on unsustainable paths. I support the idea, if not always the implementation of sustainable development. The world should not build houses, cars, or appetites for food and travel that cannot be sustained.

Virtually every program ever undertaken by government is unsustainable. Pericles knew that. Voltaire knew it. Among the most egregiously unsustainable programs of our age are immigration, welfare, education, medicine and the debt to pay for them.

Unskilled immigrants depress the price of domestic unskilled labor. Welfare (food stamps, Social Security SSI, successor programs to the supposedly abandoned AFDC – it is a long list) is growing rapidly, and the level of dependence is growing. Socialized medicine and retirement are welfare to the extent that my generation’s beneficiaries are guaranteed to receive more than we paid in. As always with government, a measure of short term peace has been bought at the price of guaranteed long term pain. Après nous, la déluge.

Studies of the academic and vocational attainment show overwhelmingly that the levels of success of southern immigrants to North America and Europe are not even close to the native born. Many studies also show why – though one is tarred as a racist for even mentioning them. Ability is heritable. The taxpaying classes of Europe and North America are not reproducing themselves and they cannot be replaced by immigrants. One is not allowed even to discuss these issues on a modern campus. I experienced it in person as a grad student at the University of Maryland. I see it in comments on my book reviews, and of course read about it in an endless stream of books.

Turning again to Reed and to college in general, government loans are distorting the education market, creating rents to support inefficient means of delivering education and creating legions of heavily indebted graduates for whose services there is only weak demand. Government prints the money to do it, and government debt is spiraling. This scenario has been replayed over and over throughout history. It has never ended well.

Conservatism seems to me to be only common sense. When I try to explain why, the long knives of invective come out. They contrive to call one a Fascist, anti-Semite, racist, sexist, homophobe and whatever. Modern government and academia conspire to ensure that honest discussion of the issues is off limits. Since they control the schools, they are able to ensure that even schoolchildren consider the questions immoral and do not raise them. My grown children could not, would not discuss these topics. It was embarrassing that I would bring them up.

As a naïve kid at Reed fifty years ago, I asked such questions. I was tarred as a Social Darwinist and a John Bircher. Though I had read Darwin in high school, I had to look up Herbert Spencer. When I did, nobody wanted to discuss him, only to disparage him. Their message was, “Shut up.” I asked, a propos of the 1960 elections, what was wrong with Richard Nixon? “Shut up,” they explained again, in a sneering stream of invective including the terms tricky, HUAC, McCarthy, Bircher and others I forget. In 2006, at the University of Maryland, I expressed the opinion that the damage I had seen the Soixante-huitards do to the Champs Elisées in the 1970s was unjustified. Same answer once more. On campus, moral indignation is a license to avoid honest dialog. This remains true of some classmates of the Class of 1964. I sense it in what I see in Reed Magazine. It surely applies to the campus today.

In America, academic freedom exists only if you believe as the academy believes you should. I am pleased to review many books by wrong-thinking people such as Stephen Pinker, David Gelernter, Arthur Jensen and Philippe Rushton who are strong enough to rise above the catcalls. My task at the moment is to raise a three year old boy. Rather than fight the establishment in America, we choose to home school him in Ukraine. It is a country in which corruption has been so transparent there is nothing to lie about. Government is too inept to intrude in one’s life. The people, nonetheless, owing to a genetic and cultural heritage that has survived centuries of misgovernment, are gracious and supportive.

A number of what seemed to be silly fads swept Reed during my years. I remember cults of Stranger in a Strange Land, The Hobbit, Scientology, The Feminine Mystique, marijuana, abolish HUAC and Fair Play for Cuba. The same people seemed to be involved in most of them. I looked into each and didn’t them convincing. My reading of Gelernter, Slezkine, MacDonald and others convinces me that some such notions were dead serious, from the outside, designed to capture young minds such as mine. Reed led the pack in abandoning its in loco parentis role – I was at Berkeley later when it happened there. The expressed intent may have been to allow us personal and intellectual freedom. The effect was to leave us prey to radical forces already very much present on campus.

I have an apocalyptic view of the future of education. That which cannot continue, will not continue. The uneconomic mechanisms of delivering education, the unsustainable cost structure, dependence on government debt and the political bias favoring policies that are in the process of failing will undo it. Two books which envision a very different future are Hacking your Education and The Nearly Free University. I am in contact with both authors and believe they are limning the paths which my son will follow.

We will educate our son at home. Others have shown that it can be markedly more efficient. Oksana, our community and I have experience in all aspects of K12 education. We will not impose the artificial hurdles of accumulating the academic tickets and money, and mouthing the appropriate pieties about diversity and community service to get accepted by the likes of Reed. Rather we will have him focus on life’s real goals: the self-respect that comes from success, family and service to community. Learning to express himself verbally, in writing and in figures and graphics will be essential to the process. Developing a community, online and in person, with whom to share ideas will also be essential. Learning the truth that success in life depends on skillfully, quickly, and politely doing things others need to have done. When and if he needs to enter a formal institution to develop further contacts and get credentialed, he will do it on his own terms, with his eyes open.

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4 thoughts on “My alma mater wants me to write two pages about my college experience fifty years ago

  1. I liked your article and agree with all of it. It never ceases to amaze me how illiberal those termed “liberal” are.

    Which school wants the article, Reed, Cal, Maryland?

    In your 7th paragraph, you might want to drop the “e” in “loathe.” And I think that I understood the second sentence but I also think that it should be revised.

    In your 14th paragraph, you might want to add a preposition between “look” and “Herbert Spencer.”

  2. Llyod, as to your comments about unsustainble features of our economy, including, unsustainable debt , which is the fuel that pushes most all unsustainability, I have this oppinion. In pre-gobal economies debt was local, what I mean is, when an American business, individula or govermtnent borrowed and thus created debt, it mostly circulated in the American domestic economy. As the world economy progressesd and people had excess capital, they could invest that capital and one major “investment” was american debt. This allowed our economy to produce more debt that has been sustainable in the past. As, I belive, Fed Rsesrve people have mentioned before, by exporting debt we create liquidity in the world. That is, foriegn countries produce profit-capital, and most of it gets reinvested in the local economy. Some of it buys American debt which creates liquididty, (extra money in the economy). this American liquidity some of it gets spent locally and alot gets spent internationally. This influx of American money in foreign countries produces excess profit-capital that then goes again thru the same cycle. It helps economies grow, but it also distorts them.

    It’s really a pyramid scheme, early ones were mostly local and collapse when they reached saturation, Now things have to reach global saturation before this unsustainablilty collapses. For now, Dick Chenney;s comments, “deffecits don’t matter” is true,. true for now. Not even Dick Chenney believed that his statemtent would encompass a yealy defecit today that would dwarf a decades worth of defecits in the past. How long and how far can this distortion go, I don’t know.

    But, it is strange, America’s defecit spending is fueling the world. It is a gift to Americans that they mostly do not apprecitate. But it is a gift of a rich man eating himself to an obese death.

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