Dickinson bullshit, part three: I thought I studied history so that we wouldn’t have to repeat these tragic mistakes

The thing I have to remind myself, as often as it takes, is that I’m forced time and time again to do spiritual battle against cult brainwashing. That’s what I faced in the Nancy Roseman spat. Two of my fools made me party to an institutional governance matter that belongs in the public domain sooner rather than later, then one of them retroactively informed me that I had stumbled into a cult mess which they would have to clean up in the event of retribution for their breach of confidentiality (first-order) and mine (second-order). Some people shoot the messenger; others give the messenger a message that is at once salacious, pertinent, and timely, and then put a toy gun to his head. I am not stupid enough to fall for shit like that.

The blowback reversed direction and got even weirder several hours after it started. I’d put links to my first two screeds about the Roseman thing on my Facebook page, along with a number of shorter comments explaining my reasons for speaking out. Most of these comments had to do with the destructiveness of cults. I woke up the next morning to find a couple of breathlessly apologetic Facebook messages from one of the parties who had drawn me into the bullshit. I reflexively felt bad about having caused such upset, but then I realized that I had successfully gotten these people to back the fuck down from their peer pressure to get me to donate money that I cannot spare to an institution that I openly despise for reasons that I have laid out in great detail, and that I had gotten them to concede that I had not in fact exposed either of them to any significant risk of anything that would make a normal person nervous. These were messages that needed to be gotten through.

I had also gotten through to them, at least temporarily, that I’m homeless and they aren’t. Beating this dead horse makes me feel like a monomaniacal boor straight out of South Park, but the unfortunate truth of it is that the message has to be belabored because otherwise no one will fucking listen. Some of the most manipulatively dishonest things that have ever been said to or about me have had to do with my housing, work, or financial situations. I am sick as hell of people who know that I am homeless pretending that I am not. I’m warm homeless. That’s the stone truth of it. This does not make me the colleague of voluntarily filthy trustafarian transients, chronic al fresco outpatients with uncontrolled temper problems, or shambling gutter junkie trash. If you assume that I’m like any of these losers and lowlives just because I don’t have a steady place to stay and can’t always afford a place for the night, maybe you’re a piece of shit and ought to shut your fucking mouth. This isn’t as much of an aside as it may seem. Upstanding homeless people are constantly smeared by association with (usually colder) homeless incompetents, nutters, druggies, and general shitheads.

The disconcerting thing about the breathless Facebook apology was that I didn’t think I’d done anything to solicit it. I’d been dragged into some cult bullshit, so I’d dragged it into the sunlight on Facebook for the evening. I was annoyed with the other parties to this spat, but I didn’t take it personally in the sense of wanting to punish anyone, and I scrupulously avoided mentioning the names or even rough identities of those involved. For this discretion, I found myself with a Wow Many friendship restored with mudasir Omg mudasir plz accept plea in my inbox. It seemed a bit over the top. The tone was pretty screwy, too: it whipsawed from effusive praise of my unique life wisdom as a result of hardship (which wisdom the other parties could attain in significant measure for themselves if they stopped being insatiable social climbers) to encouraging me to continue the rant “for as long as I want” but with the understanding that at some point, like so many other impulses, it may become destructive, and finally encouragement to “hang in there.”

Well shit. I wasn’t coming unhinged; I was doing spiritual battle with a cult again. Cults are a roaring pain in the ass to anyone who feels like doing some independent thinking. It wasn’t like I wanted to drown my sorrows in whiskey and Oxycontin. In one of my Facebook followups, I mentioned that Synanon taking over the sheriff’s department is the sort of endgame that can be expected from cultism and that a society ought to avoid that kind of shit. Does that sound like the self-pity of the despondent? I think the intended sense of “destructive” was “self-destructive,” so there may have been some conflation of self and other in the mix. It wouldn’t be the first time. Mixups like that happen when people are overly eager to believe in something bigger than themselves by turning themselves into that bigger thing.

The broader context to these preemptive apologies is that I’ve taken extensive flak for oversharing on Facebook from people who seem to think that I breached a protocol the likes of which no one has cause to codify. A friend of mine took similar flak for posting too much Debbie Downer personal stuff on Facebook at a time when he was severely depressed and living in Seattle, thousands of miles from home. As far as I’m concerned, you need to be morally impeccable to get away with trying to hush someone on a platform designed for the spontaneous, unfiltered sharing of personal thoughts in those circumstances. If you came there for baby pictures and Aruba vacation pictures and are offended by a depressed acquaintance using the platform to vent and see if anyone is listening, go fuck yourself. This is the kind of thinking that gets passengers pissed off because their train to the Giants home game is late on account of a cabfront suicide at a grade crossing. Some people really need to be told to go to hell. I don’t know what else works.

These apology notes were a turducken of smarm. That probably isn’t how they were intended, but that’s how they came across. Again, I don’t take this personally because I’m doing spiritual battle with a cult. Cults turn people’s brains to mush. They cause people to flounder between living half-assedly in truth and living a web of lies. Taking two junior social climbers out of the alumni mutual aggrandizement network won’t fix Dickinson College. Calling out their behavior when it becomes pathological may do something positive.

The other stunning thing about these messages was that in addition to their emotionally erratic tone and resulting inevitable manipulativeness, they betrayed a stunning class arrogance. One of them conceded that I probably would have been better served by a trade school because Dickinson “is a grad school preparatory institution.” How the fuck does a line like that even end up in a person’s lexicon? It’s perfectly normal to say that some people will naturally have good reasons to want to go to graduate or professional school after college. This is something else entirely, the idea that an entire undergraduate institution is and should be designed specifically for students planning to go on to graduate school, to the detriment of any students planning to directly enter the workforce after at least sixteen consecutive years of formal education.

This dripping class prejudice is why obnoxiously highbrow political and cultural movements (Main Line Republican types in the old days, BoBos and other neurotically affluent socially climbing Democrats these days) get their asses handed to them on a platter whenever the plebes are given an opportunity to speak. It would be considered at once ridiculous and unconscionably bigoted to go onto the campus of an elite American university and say that NYU is an institution that prepares its students for careers feasting on the blood of gentile babies. Acting like the holders of bachelor’s degrees in the liberal arts from extremely expensive colleges are unambitious for not pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees and hence shouldn’t really expect anything from their alma maters, on the other hand, is apparently not considered outrageous. Any self-respecting association should want its members who carry on like that to shut up for the sake of everyone’s reputation. It’s just embarrassing, or should be in any event.

In point of fact, Bill Durden and his lackeys repeatedly made specific claims to the contrary, that Dickinson almost peerlessly prepared its alumni for professional success and versatility by equipping us with top-notch critical thinking skills, writing skills, broad educations, professional networks, and the like. The high percentage of graduates pursuing further education wasn’t presented as the minimum expected of them but as yet more proof of the sheer excellence of Dickinsonians and their educations. Of course, Durden would have been far too fraudulent to admit that Dickinson did not prepare its alumni for career success without further graduate or professional education even if he believed this to be true; whether he was actually so self-aware and cynical or believed his own bullshit in this matter is probably anyone’s guess. Regardless, he did not tell us anything along the lines of it being our duty to ourselves to proceed directly to graduate school because otherwise we’d be wasting our educations and holding useless credentials. Hearing a solipsistic post-hoc justification for the practical uselessness and even counterproductivity of a Dickinson degree from someone living deeply in the Red Devil fog machine was dismaying. I expected bullshit artistry from that crowd. I did not expect Orwellian on-the-fly shifts in explanations of Dickinson’s institutional mission from someone whom I know to stay on point with the college’s propaganda.

How the fuck does a citizenry govern itself when it’s composed of people who think like this? It can actually be a frightening thing to contemplate. We may be damned as a country precisely because we have so many loudmouthed, pushy salesmen, communications majors, corporate spokesmen, PR mercenaries, paid comment thread trolls, loot-and-scoot MBA’s, and similar professional garbage. I just don’t see how people can successfully compartmentalize their lives into professional personas that are subsumed into totalitarian propaganda on the one hand and civic and social lives that are honest and responsible on the other. That just doesn’t sound workable. I’ve seen the lines get blurred, and it’s almost always been the professional immorality bleeding into the after-hours moral rectitude and polluting it. This is what I’ve been dealing with in this meta-Roseman clusterfuck. As an entire generation, the Millennials have been trained to defer to the party lines of those sponsoring or claiming to sponsor us whenever there’s a clash between the party line and our own independent thought. This training has been alarmingly successful and pervasive. In some social circles, the continuity of this training ran unabated throughout the Great Compression.

We end up with people who act like a disgruntled, recurrently unemployed alumnus accusing his alma mater’s presidents of moral turpitude is punching down. This is one of the most bogus and most censorious insinuations imaginable. There may be a dozen-odd Dickinson stakeholders who ever had roughly as much intramural power as Bill Durden, i.e., trustees (who subsequently fired Roseman) and a few senior administrators. A scattering of bigshot alumni and parents enjoyed equal or greater power, but only in their corners of the outside world. As far as I can tell, none of these bigshots had any special power within Dickinson to get Durden brought to heel or fired. On the other hand, any number of people who were halfway in the loop could probably have gotten Durden fired over the Darlington/Sexton/Surita nightmare by contacting reporters at the Harrisburg Patriot-News, or perhaps even by publishing credible blog posts in a timely fashion. Wow Much kitty Such genovese Very bystander, I guess.

To hazard another wild guess, Durden probably doesn’t sleep in his car. My net worth is something like $15k, most of that tied up in IRA’s. Durden’s must be upwards of $5m if he’s been a halfway sensible steward of his own finances. His total gross pay as Dickinson College President alone, excluding fringe and in-kind benefits, came to something like $6.5m. No one in the Dickinson community has any ethical duty to spare him. He’s privileged as fuck. Tough shit if the criticism gets him butthurt; he’s the one who chose to become a public figure by seeking out the Dickinson presidency and then holding it for over a decade. If I’m upsetting other people by accusing Durden of moral turpitude, that’s their fault for being enamored with a sleazeball.

Of course I’m calling these people out. They’re acting like Scientologists. Again and again, they rev up and threaten to go full Chuck Diederich get-your-balls-clipped. With a bit of moral courage and force of will, they can be made to back partway down for a time. This isn’t a particularly pleasant duty, but duty isn’t supposed to be pleasant. I know, Wow Much values Very pass it on Omg john wayne. It’s true, though. Some patriots get captured and hanged by the enemy; I become a bit less popular with stuck-up rich girls who weren’t showing much interest in me anyway, or something like that. It’s some real Nathan Hale shit. But we’ve read this story before, and it doesn’t end well. Tom Cruise, among others, has dianetically narrated it for us. We get with the programming at our own peril.

The poison tree must be nipped in the bud. Otherwise we won’t be left with a thing worth defending.

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