Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Poe-litically correct mad-houses

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I have long marveled at the absurd excesses, extreme irrationality, and virtual insatiability of large parts of the PC crowd, e.g. among Swedish feminists or in U.S. colleges.* The problems in higher education are especially depressing, because colleges and universities are supposed to be about truth, knowledge, rationality, freedom of speech and opinion, intellectual development …—an example for all of society. Starting in the 1960s and heading downward ever since, they have been slowly turning into the opposite of this—a center for pseudo- and anti-intellectuals, those pushing ideological agendas over truth, those trying to indoctrinate the younger generation instead of teaching it how to think critically, those wanting to silence their opponents by any means, …** In some cases, the transformation is more-or-less complete by now.

*See a number of older posts, or sites like www.mindingthecampus.org and www.thefire.org, for examples and deeper discussions. Also note an excursion at the end. If you think that I engage in rhetorical exaggeration, please read even a handful of articles on such topics from other parties first—you will find that I do not. (Notwithstanding that the mentioned sources do not necessarily give a complete overall image of the college situation, as they focus on particular types of abuse and rarely have a reason to mention positives.)

**In all fairness, the faculty is, at least outside social sciences, the place where the sensible people are still most likely to be found. Students and administrators often appear to be the larger problem; and the three reinforce each other’s behavior. To boot, the destructive tendencies do not necessarily reflect majority opinions in any group—maybe they do, maybe it is more a matter of who cries the loudest wins. (And can these people cry!)

The point has come where I often even doubt whether mere ignorance, stupidity, intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy, a “the end justifies the means” mentality, whatnot, are enough to explain the situation—or whether at least some of the involved people might actually suffer from severe mental problems.

As I contemplated* grabbing an online copy of “Alice in Wonderland” to explore the topic of insanity by transforming it into a portrayal of U.S. colleges, I stumbled upon something usable as is, with only a minor switch of mental perspective: Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. In brief, it tells the story of a (as it transpires) less-than-bright young man, who visits a “mad-house” in the hopes of educating himself on a new (fictional) system of treatment—“soothing”. Soothing takes an extremely tolerant approach to the behavior and self-/world-perception of the patients—to the point that someone who believes himself a chicken is treated like a chicken.**

*I might or might not. This will depend on how much time I have available, how long it is, and how well the overall story can be made to fit. (I have not read it since a teenager, leaving me a little vague on these details.)

**In all fairness, unlike e.g. U.S. colleges, this is partly with the intent of making the patient return to a more conventional perception, e.g. in that someone being given only corn to eat might realize that he is not entirely a chicken after all.

Our unnamed protagonist finds himself in the company of the superintendent, Monsieur Maillard, and a young woman. After the departure of the latter, he expresses some curiosity as to whether she was one of the patients, but is reassured that she was a niece of Monsieur Maillard’s. He receives some information about the system, the history of the mad-house, and whatnot—but is also told that the soothing system has been replaced by one largely of Monsieur Maillard’s invention, with influence by Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.

The protagonist is not yet allowed to see any patients, but is invited to dinner “[…]where a very numerous company were assembled — twenty-five or thirty in all. They were, apparently, people of rank—certainly of high breeding[…]”. As dinner progresses, various stories of patients are told and absurd events occur that have some very clear implications to a rational reader, but, sadly, not to the protagonist. This includes the young lady from before attempting to undress in front of the rest of the party…

Monsieur Maillard eventually tells a story of when the soothing system misfired, strongly contributing to its abolition, and the patients took over the mad-house, showing rather less consideration to their former keepers than had been shown in the other direction: “The keepers and kept were soon made to exchange places. Not that exactly either — for the madmen had been free, but the keepers were shut up in cells forthwith, and treated, I am sorry to say, in a very cavalier manner.”

Further said about the how the leader of the revolution kept the new state of affairs secret: “He admitted no visitors at all — with the exception, one day, of a very stupid-looking young gentleman of whom he had no reason to be afraid. He let him in to see the place — just by way of variety, — to have a little fun with him.”

Shortly thereafter, in the timeline of the dinner, the “lunatics”/keepers stage a break-out*, take back control, and reveal further parts of the story, including that they had been tarred-and-feathered and locked up for more than a month.

*This, regrettably, has not (yet?) happened in the real world.

The story concludes with the protagonist’s lament “[…] that, although I have searched every library in Europe for the works of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, I have, up to the present day, utterly failed in my endeavors at procuring an edition.”; however, I am certain that things have changed since Poe’s days and that any modern college library will contain these or many similar works…

Excursion on insatiability:
A particular absurdity is that the less* actual reason for a complaint is present, the greater the complaints are. This includes, e.g. accusations of racism, intolerance, hate speech, … The reason appears to be that the goal-post are continually moved to more and more extreme positions, even after an absurd state has been reached. Consider e.g. Swedish feminists who, as arguably the most privileged and advantaged major group in the world, still complain about oppression, discrimination, and whatnot; or the U.S. idiocy of micro-aggressions, which can make any interaction between a White straight man and someone not a White straight man into a grave offense; or objections to hoop ear-rings worn by the “wrong” people; or fits being thrown over the casting of a “binary”** person in a “non-binary” film role.

*From the point of view of the Leftists/PC crowd/SJWs/… Other parties can have quite a lot to complain about, including racism, intolerance, hate speech, … by these groups.

**I.e. someone who identifies as purely man or purely woman and does so in concordance with biological sex. (I am uncertain whether heterosexuality is also required.)

Excursion on other works of literature:
Much of what goes on is disturbingly similar to some works by e.g. George Orwell, Franz Kafka, Anthony Burgess, and Ayn Rand. The extreme attempts at thought-control and extermination of even the slightest hint of dissent, as well as the ever sinking threshold for thoughtcrime and sexcrime, might leave the impression* that “Big Brother” has been taken as a deliberate role model. (A separate text on this might follow.) The quasi-Orwellian slogan “Ignorance is Enlightenment” also catches many of the problems…

*More likely, it is a natural development paralleling the problems that inspired Orwell—at the hands of those ignorant of his works. Litmus test: When you hear “Big Brother”, do you think surveillance or thought-control?

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Written by michaeleriksson

August 10, 2018 at 4:51 am

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