Wednesday, May 30, 2012

C.S.A.: Confederate States of America

The other day I watched this mockumentary which was a meta-film documentary about the history of the Civil War. In this film, the history is changed to reflect a possible outcome had the Confederates won. It even included commercial breaks and a breaking news interruption featuring products such as, "Niggerhair" cigarettes, it definitely came close to simulating a made-for-television documentary feel.

What disturbed me so much about it is that it isn't too far from what I'd imagine would happen. Often times I wonder if America, though outwardly becoming more accepting of other cultures, is actually Orson Welles 1984 and this film as an instructional manual. Sometimes I fear that the soon-to-be minority of fundamentalist Christians will be the ruling oligarchy of America and have their way with this country; ravaging freedom like Jack the Ripper having a field day in London. It's a gruesome reality that I shudder to think about, especially in knowing that I was raised as fundamentalist Christian. (In case anyone was wondering, Walt Whitman amongst others fled to Canada when he found out that slavery was far from being abolished in this alternate timeline. Harriet Tubman tried to help former-President Lincoln escape, but both were captured.) It was basically the story of how Manifest Destiny would play out if it hadn't become a subversive narrative underlying American popular culture. That's right folks, I'm saying it. Manifest Destiny is a live and well today, just not overt and openly admitted by anyone.

Want to know something else super disturbing? Many of the products featured in the commercials were actual products that existed in our real universe (See #10 and #3 for the examples that I'm referring to). I wish I could tell you to go ahead and pat yourself on the back because all of that disappeared back in the 1950's, but what about Aunt Jemima's Syrup and Uncle Ben's Instant Rice? Folks, we're not as far removed from the horrors of our past as we'd like to think. How we've handled the conflict in the Middle East is indicative of our failure to learn from past mistakes. Sure, we're no longer under the authority of that warlord psychopath Bush, but President Obama is no savior; prophet, or angel. He's just a man, perhaps a more honest man with a great sense of humor, but still a man. In some ways, electing him has given America some false hope, as if electing a black man into presidency means something. Obama was put up against McCain and you expected anything different? That old fart was no match for President Obama. McCain started out strong, but in an effort to appeal to more and more interest groups, the guy ended up being a middle ground between liberal and conservative.

There has been some significant changes since then, but we cannot become complacent in the successes of our fore bearers. Currently, I've seen some great stuff coming out of the Occupy movement. My concern is the political agenda of modern social justice movements. I've seen a lot of communists, socialist, far-left liberals, and so on all backing the Occupy movement. The problem? Everyone needs to be involved in a social justice. Another problem? Occupy is not synonymous with social justice. Just as marching with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement wouldn't necessarily make me a social justice advocate, social justice is far bigger and has more wide-reaching implications and applications than mere protest. I'm digressing from the point.

Want a good glimpse at the Manifest Destiny undertones made (ready for it?) MANIFEST? Watch this film and see what one film maker and some devoted cast and crew see as America's future had the MD narrative been allowed to flourish openly.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Thoughtful Commentary (Shimer Policy Against Exclusive Groups)


I need to start this blog by recognizing that there have been a lot of wonderfully accepting, understanding, and generously constructive criticisms to my angry rant called, "The Gaping Hole Shimer Leaves In My Heart". After I thoroughly dragged my school and peers through the mud, they responded by thoughtfully offering their consoling words and encouragement. Words cannot express the gratitude to the people who did this. To those who did not, I totally understand why you were so upset and I'm not holding anything against you for getting up-in-arms about it.

Shimer College has a policy that, as it is worded on their website states, "Sororities and fraternities and other organizations which promote exclusivity based on sex, age, national origin, economic, or academic status, or any other basis, are not permitted". One of the primary unstated other organizations is ROTC programs. To help me focus what I'm trying to say, I am going to be talking specifically about the fraternity I wish to join, but hopefully the majority of what I say applies to most of the groups not permitted by this policy.


When I first applied to attend Shimer College, I never gave it much thought that there was this policy against joining fraternities. My perception of fraternities were these weird cult-like places where the guys get drunk every night and torture their pledges. Why would anyone want to be a part of that? I came to Shimer and one of the first things I learned about the Greeks at IIT was that there was once a fraternity who did something almost unspeakable. In retaliation for losing their accreditation (the ultimate punishment for listless offenses), this house of frat guys poured cement down the water pipes in their house (which they were being kicked out of). That house was going to become the Shimer dormitory. The damages were so extensive that it was more financially efficient to destroy the building rather than try to replace all the pipes. This boiled over my already warm brew of "f- you" for fraternities.

When I joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship I was absolutely shocked by how many Greeks there were. The place was crawling with them. I didn't get too close to them, but little did I know that the people I made friends with immediately were mostly Greek. I told them that I really did not like Greeks and explained what my perceptions of them were. It took several months, but I came to understand that my perception was a stereotype of Greeks that isn't true of all Greeks. Later I met a graduate student who told me the whole story behind the fraternity that sabotaged the would-be Shimer dormitory. It became clear to me that, even for a stereotypical fraternity, those guys were out of control freaks who just wanted to be destructive.

Shimer College faculty and staff, to some extent the students as well, speak of the community that Shimer has. If you heard them speak about Shimer community, you'd think we're all one big hippy family that sings kum baya around a campfire. I was really excited to see this in action. I had just left a very close-knit theatre company that had been my community for almost two years and I was not looking forward to leaving that, except at the promise of joining a new community: the Shimer community. I was so thrilled that I was being a given a chance to prove that I could excel in the right academic conditions, then to be told that Shimer has such a generous and close community was like I had just found paradise.

As weeks turned to months, I began to realize that the community that was held in such regard was more a thing of legend; a vestige of the Shimer days of yore. I had come to Shimer in the wake of the usurpation of a very misguided president. This experience had brought a certain sense of community to a select group of Shimer students who had answered the call which comes to Shimerians who want to protect the ethos of Shimer, but I was not a part of that. Also, I had come in the Spring, which meant that I was living on campus with a group of Shimerians who had already spent a semester getting to know each other. I came to Shimer with so many preconceptions about the world, I burned a lot of bridges when I got here. To my shame, I pissed off a lot of wonderful people and further alienated myself from the very people I wanted so badly to be accepted by.

When I came back in the Fall, I wouldn't say that I was completely changed, but I was definitely not the same person. I was coming into a new era of social justice-mindedness. I was suddenly more aware of the disparity between different groups of people by ethnicity, culture, political affiliation, creed, and so forth. I was living on the same floor as all these first year students and I was really stoked about it. I had met some of them from their visits in the Spring. I actually went through orientation with them just so I could try to incorporate myself into the developing community of students who I'd be living with. What came of this was a much stronger bond with these group of Shimer students than I have with anyone else. Unfortunately, I am not as close to them as I'd like to be. I'm sure that is a fault that lies with both myself and the others. I don't believe there is any malicious intent there. They are genuinely wonderful people and I love them dearly.

Over the past year, I've come to meet a certain group of guys from the Skulls (Phi Kappa Sigma). I've come to know them, respect them, and enjoy hanging out with them. I've also done a little research into the fraternity as a whole, and it turns out that these guys have done some incredible things. For example, when a southern chapter wanted to make it so that only white men could join, the rest of the chapters pretty much gave their racist brothers the finger and refused to amend the constitution. It was then that I knew that if I ever found a way to join a fraternity without completely leaving Shimer in the dust, this would be the one for me.


Now we get to the core of what I find myself frustrated with. Shimer College is a close community by virtue of its ethos of dialogue and pursuit of a shared learning experience through inquiry. At present, there is a Shimer floor in the Gunsualus dormitory building, but that is dissolving and next year Shimerians will be fully integrated into the structure IIT has for all their students who live on campus. This means that one of the main aspects of what gave me a semblance of community with my fellow Shimerians is going the way of dinosaurs and cassette tapes.

This is not a bad thing for Shimer College as a whole. It simply means that the dynamics of what makes the Shimer community is evolving the same way the College is evolving. I will still have my Shimerians who I spent the academic year of '11-12 and some of them I may even get to graduate with. There are also some Shimerians who do not live on campus that I feel close to and I will have them as well. It is not the end of the world that there will no longer be a Shimer floor, but I would humbly submit that Shimer may not be a one-stop shop for all an individual's community needs. This is only natural now that Shimer College is located on the second floor another school's building and does not have any external facilities of its own.

With this change in the dynamics of the Shimer community, the question I raise is whether Shimer can afford to sustain its reluctance to allow the students to join organizations which are deemed "exclusive". I've heard rumor of the reasons why this policy was instituted, and I have responses to all of them, but rather than combat speculation with opinion; I will rest my argument on the evolving nature of the Shimer community and what it lacks that can be filled by other organizations currently prohibited by this policy.


There will be a lot of work ahead of me if I truly want to see a change in this policy. I have heard from some who would support my efforts to, at the very least, bring about a fruitful discussion on the relevancy of this policy in modern Shimer. It's going to take some investigation into the true origins of this policy and a response to the premise on which the policy is founded.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,