Letters One Might Write

Dear visiting colleague, I place you far above my head and if you ask me for a letter I will pour out my brain. I so wish we could recruit or retain you or any people so sane and active as yourself. –Yours very truly, PZ.

Dear former colleague, if we could cover expenses and you could fit it into your schedule, might you consider giving a talk here in exchange for a truly great time that will musically blow your mind? You have become the person we are waiting for.

I am nobody to speak on matters so exalted. Yet it is true what they say, your work is “cutting edge.” It also fits perfectly with the purposes of our program, although my own research interests motivate me to invite you now. –Yours very truly, PZ.

This week I wrote both of these letters, being the person Reeducation claimed lacked “humility” and “honesty.” –Yours as ever, PZ.


8 thoughts on “Letters One Might Write

  1. Good effort. Reeducation would doubtless have something to say about how you are departing from conventional values in writing those letters — hence you are not humble after all. But that’s too bad. As I discussed on Facebook last night, for Christianity life is death and death is life, and everything is back to front.

  2. Yes – and fall out of step, or refuse to be manipulated, and you’re arrogant.

    And as discussed IRL today, before I forget this part of the conversation (I should post on the following more formally but don’t have time):

    I was alleged to be: hurtful, selfish, unfair, bossy, oppressive.

    It meant: I would fight back if necessary, I had an identity, I could see what was happening and would name it, I could find solutions to practical problems, I do not like to stay stuck. In other words: I want to move toward freedom and I am happy to take others with me but if they do not wish to go, I still will.

    Keywords here are: having an identity, seeing reality and having vision, and drawing boundaries.

    These things are all considered oppressive because if I act, on my own behalf or on the behalf of the whole, it will mean freedom is no further away than the other side of one’s hand.


    On these letters: the first one I mean exactly as it is written. I have exerted what power I have in this situation and it is not enough.

    On the second: it’s a parody of what I do actually say to everyone: we offer no honorarium and to speak here does nothing to enhance a vita such as yours. We can however show you things which will fascinate you and which you have not seen before. Consider it a brief working vacation or a form of fieldwork, and come on down.

  3. Everything you say about reeducation’s conceptualisation of “true (and ethical) behaviour” rings true for me, in terms of my experience of the moral thought police.

    Hattie recently prompted me to write a bit more closely what my memoir is about. It’s about observing the real nature of oppressive social dynamics as compared to how things “seem to be” from the point of view of a more narrow ego psychology. I’m trying to get under the skin of things, to show social coercion and pressure, rather than the view, “he decided to cooperate with the authorities, and so he did”; she decided to give herself a rather scary feminine identity, and so it was so.”

    Anyway, my way of trying to show the real dynamics of relationships (not those attributed, after the fact, to “free will”, but actually being the results of hidden pressures) is to take an experimental approach!

  4. Moral thought police, yes. And the assumption really was that one was, or must be beneath the civilized surface, a really degraded being. I have since discovered that the typical person in Reeducation’s city of origin really is like that.

    They really do behave like that and at this point they have created so much chaos in their own lives and in the lives of others that before anything else happens, they must learn that that *is* unacceptable behavior.

    I’ve ordered the book. One of the things that most irritates me in life is the attribution after the fact of events — particularly events one would not have chosen, had one had a choice — as products of “free will.”

  5. Never do anything you do not want to do — because afterwards people will come along and say it was your “free will” that caused you to decide to go along with a particular programme, whilst you will know that this was not the case at all.

  6. Not doing what one doesn’t want to do is the easy part.

    It’s that Xtreme idealist position that bothers me, the idea that one unconsciously chose to be hit by a tornado or whatever happened.

    Also the idea that if you make the best choice possible given the information you have, and it turns out not to have been the best choice, it is necessarily more than a mistake.

    And the refusal to recognize that most people who make choices, have a limited number options and not necessarily those they would consider best … yet they must still choose and act.

    And the idea that one is responsible for everything, not just to face it but to feel one caused it.

  7. We are living through a deeply subjectivist time in history. Basically you are supposed to be individually responsible for your own perfection, and then people are free to pour their scorn upon you if you haven’t generated your perfect self out of your own head. Nothing but perfection is forgivable. It is a horrible perspective, which makes for a horrible time. To be honest, in a lot of situations (non-academic) I have to consciously flick a switch in my head, which goes something like: “I’m addressing myself to people who have no capacity to learn and who will bite the hand that feeds them. Give them a little, keep your self-defensive apparatus in place, don’t expect much in return (and be grateful if you are not bitten too much!)”

    Truly we are living in horrible times.

  8. It’s all what goes on. And we can’t do much about the way other people are, which is a bummer if we don’t like the way they are, but there it is. And most of us don’t have a lot of choices, as you say, Prof.Z. So we can at least be good to ourselves.

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