Saturday, March 28, 2009

You Know... The "Radical Activist" Librarian... The One Who Looks like a Cop, Wears a Stetson, Likes Cold Beer & Tom Waits...

"Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking."

- Bhagat Singh (1907-1931),
Freedom Fighter & Indian Independence leader

LOCAL U. (ZP) -- The crowded, cavernous dining area of the local student union building swallowed all of the outside world, and there I sat, waiting on a college student at seven in the morning and sipping horrible coffee.

Jesus Christ, I told myself, what the hell kind of advice can I offer a student who thinks I'm THE local radical?

I'm not, for the record, a radical - at least from my standpoint. A minimalist, an anti-consumer, sure. Well-read and thoughtful, too. And I do have certain political and social views quite askew from the norm for a generally ultraconservative college town. But most of my fundamental political philosophy is based on, well, ideals that have been fostered organically, are rather undogmatic and, well, more Whitman and Emerson than Che or Trotsky.

I'm not some half-petrified New Left yuppie stuck in nostalgic dogma wrapped in "Activism," not the stereotypical, media-construct Virginia-raised Good Ol' Boy conservative in a cowboy hat, either.

* * * *

Ever since I outed myself as something more, well, philosophically libertarian and collectivist than your average Democrat or Republican, I've been overwhelmed by the number of responses from younger folks concerning the exact nature of my politics. What is a "left-libertarian?" How does one become one, what does one read, study, believe?

And I don't look like the stereotype of someone with such views. The more one digs online into left-libertarianism and socialist libertarianism and anarchism, the more one finds images of mostly upper middle-class white kids sporting hemp-suits and dreads, bandito-style bandannas and quirky protest signs at rallies.

Ain't too many of us who, well, get mistaken for cops and Marines and frat boys more than hippies or stoned granola-heads, guys who hate hacky-sack and the over-commercialization of reggae, or who really believe that mass protest is less important than conversations between friends at bars...

* * * *

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Russian novelist, Christian Anarchist,
Founder of the modern non-violence movement
Swallowed within a writhing body of unwashed students and building maintenance guys, faculty and vending machine delivery guys and cooks and custodians, I wait patiently, face buried in the day's Cincinnati Enquirer.

What the fuck am I going to tell this young woman? Worse, what does she want to ask about me, and what am I going to ask about her?

What about my personal philosophy does she find so damned fascinating?

The conversation I am to have involves yet another young woman from a rather conservative, unpolitical background... likes some group called the Jonas Bros., shoes, and sundresses... DVRs Lost and House and Gossip Girl... belongs to a sorority... mother's really religious... reads, duh, blogs in her boring gen-ed classes...

Yeah, what the hell is a chick like this doing seeking MY advice? I'm quite the fuck-up...

Fuck, I'm the librarian who used to date an adult entertainers and once worked as a bouncer at a friggin' strip club... watch Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica... have to be told by friends to watch "cheese" TV once and a while... and, yeah, I BLOG in my spare time...

I have no clue what my querent looks like, other than brunette. She's an online chat buddy, an electronic phantom. I told her I'd have a paper and my Stetson; she said she'd find me.

And she did, indeed, plop down at my table, a few minutes late, dressed in pink sweatpants and a printed white tee, purple bra strap twisted like a pretzel and poking out through a hole in the cotton. Beautiful young woman, looking quite stereotypical and so non-political, not even scenester hip but, well, everyday normal, un-radical American.

"Wow, you're really here."

"Yup. Kinda weird, huh?"

She paused, nodded, looked around.

"Don't sweat it. It's kinda, ya know, normal around these parts."

Haven't heard a girl with that sort of snicker-laugh in a while.

Sad but true... these days, I'm a lot less worried about my "public image" than I am about the privacy of my subjects...

* * * *

"So you're fascinated by my... politics? Why?"

And that was all it took to get a rather intriguing conversation going.

Despite her coming from a die-hard Republican family and having identified herself as a moderate conservative for most of her life, she'd been going through a crisis of political identity since she started college.

She can't relate to the Republicans anymore - too religious in all the wrong ways, too profit-driven at the expense of working-classes, not compassionate and no longer conservative. No way in hell could she side with the Democrats. She tried a campus Libertarian meeting during the last presidential election and, well, no go, either.

"I dunno, I just started Googling some of those guys you quote sometimes and said, 'Hey, these were some cool people... why don't we make cool people like that anymore?'"


"Yeah. Weird but I actually asked this professor last semester about that Zapata guy and the whole land and liberty thing..."

"What happened?"

"Ohmygod, she freaked out! Like, it had nothing to do with the class but she thought it was, like, weird coming from..."

... From someone in a sorority who likes the Jonas Bros. and shoes and sun dresses, who prays regularly and who tans almost as frequently.

I spent two hours chatting with a college girl about such things, over shitty coffee and a couple of pastries charged to her meal plan. About drug legalization (agree), legalized gambling (agree), over-politicization of the most absurd things (agree), and the tendency of academicians to bias their curricular material without knowing it (agree)...

* * * *
Tell them dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for being

- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
American poet, essayist, and orator,
from the poem "The Rhodora"

Amazing what a young woman who looks like a preppy collar-popper and a librarian who looks like a cop can talk about in two hours.

For the record, yes, I have the most attractive college-aged readers of any online writer in Ohio.

Brilliant, well-spoken, and fascinating.

And in that mass of people, of professors and custodians and students and food service folks, all of us wallowing in the cavernous belly of a rather ugly student union, I wonder what the casual passerby thought of the pair of us.

Dollars to those shitty pastries they thought, if anything, we were talking about Jesus and beer pong. Or, well, maybe they thought we were discussing a late-night hook-up, or a new prayer group, or a crush party.

Revolutions, you know, have this nasty tendency to start not with protests but with conversations.

- # # # -


Anonymous said...

Judging the book by its cover will ultimately be their undoing. Opening eyes is an unusual ability... Well done!

J said...

yay! go me!!! we need to hang out again sometime just not at haha that early

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Indeed they do start with conversations. There may be some hope out there just yet. Love the first quote you used, adding it to my list of favorites. Great post.

Best, and keep on blogging.

EsotericWombat said...

Clearly, Oxford is lucky to have you.

Where I live there's no shortage of "radicals," but even here undogmatic thinkers are scarce.

I wonder if there's a Turing Test to distinguish them.

Anonymous said...

It is amazingly hard to start conversations with students, because it is entirely possible they will be offended without knowing why they are. But, it sounds like, it is sometimes worth the effort.

Smurf said...

so how do you feel about that? It's quite interesting. Sometimes, as I read, I can see that same guy sitting out on the brick wall writing poetry and playing his guitar in front of Snyder Hall. I think that is when I met you, the night of the first Honors meeting. It is interesting also to see how life changes us. I read one of your posts about being at a bar late... it made me think back to when we were 19 and spent a lot of time at Denny's at 2 and 3 in the morning... seems like your stomping ground has changed some.

You made a comment about a certain type of people being cut off from the real world and being stuck in various activities online. It is kinda crazy how true that actually is.

Anyways... I was just thinking about you, wondering how you were... I read through these blogs and it tells a little, but I would love to hear from you.

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