Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let's Just Quit. Really.

I remember Mrs. Best's third grade class at Willits in Monmouth, up there on the second story overlooking the playground, the sun beating into the room and roasting us. Any kid knows the only way to escape blistering heat is to go out into it, running and laughing and daring it to dent the proof of your boundless energy (I tended to beat the heat with technology [A/C and SNES]), but we were languishing in our classroom in reparation for our few, paltry snow days.

Mrs. Best answered our cries with that empathy shared by parents and teachers. "I don't want to be here any more than you do." We had all heard this argument before and hammered it out by maintaining that, for instance, if our teacher didn't want to spend so much time grading, there should be fewer assignments. It made sense to us.

What didn't make sense to me in my eighth year and doesn't to this day, is why people don't just band together, declare how much it all sucks, and stop playing the game. It's as if all of humanity is caught in a game of horseshoes and no one is willing to say "this isn't fun, let's stop playing," and instead we reach the other inevitable end of the game: "ow, you hit me with a horseshoe."*

This is why there's war.

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes on how the guards of the Siberian prison camp hate being there as much as the inmates as an explanation for the lack of animosity between the two (we didn't have any ill-will for Mrs. Best).

Solzhenitsyn doesn't offer a reason for why the soldiers didn't rebel and demand to not be stationed in Siberia. We know that in the Soviet system, someone is going to be a jerk and make you do it or hurt you so bad as to make an example of you. In this case, I'm sure the man's badge would be taken away and he'd have to stay in Siberia for a couple more months.

If only those men had just used their guns and said, "Screw this." If only we could. If only we could look at the dumb systems in which we find ourselves (I'm dealing with college bureaucracy, for example) and just ignore the rules for a more sane system.

The Jerk, the Bully, the Powermonger is the reason, by the way. Most discussions of this subject would end by feeding you the usual, hegemonic line that we fear what's on the other side of the ostensibly unassailable wall, but that's not true. The truth is we don't fear what would happen if all malls were closed Black Friday. We fear the repercussions of Stalin or the school principal.

If Mrs. Best had let us out to play all day, we wouldn't have learned anything other than maybe a lesson in letting people be people. I don't remember what we did learn, but I'm sure that whatever it was, it must have been important.

*thanks to Dave Attell for the horseshoes joke

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