The Botereid

Saturday, October 09, 2004

the Yale superciliousness (wow)

I was brushing my teeth a few minutes ago and thinking about the Derrida post I made earlier, about using the word "irony." I thought about riding on a bus to Ocala about this time last year, going to a lit mag award ceremony with the Miambiance staff. The staff of MDC's paper, The Catalyst was also there. I was talking to this bright high-schooler, part of MDC's advanced high school program (bunch of smart kids doing their junior and senior years at the college and simultaneously graduating with high school and associate's degrees). I was joking around a bit and I used the word "ironic." He, perhaps getting a little tired of me, said, "That's not how you use the word."

I thought about him saying that while I was brushing my teeth a few minutes ago. I still don't think he was right. But, as Freud said, memories of sadness won't make you sad, memories of laughter won't make you laugh, but memories of embarrassment... I still felt a little ashamed when I thought about being chastened. But the unnerving part: The first thing I thought this time was, Well...I'm at Yale! Smart or not, is he getting into Yale?

Talk about shame on top of shame. I'm really one to scorn arrogance, that's why I can't help it when I'm that way. The worst part is that it's the eighth or ninth time I've said that to myself in the last six months. Do other students here feel that way? I think some must. Some must even say it. There is a bit of a reputation at some of these schools for that kind of attitude, and not all reputations are effortlessly gained. But why would I think something like that if I don't actually believe being here at Yale makes me a better person?

(And I mean that. I nearly flunked out of high school. I worked hard to get through community college while working full-time. I know how lucky I am to be here, and I'm slaving to make myself worthy of it.)

I think it boils down to appeals to authority. While thinking back to that kid on the bus, I feel the shame rise again and I look to counter it in any way. Bereft of a decent response, I appeal to the authority of Yale: "Look, Yale says I'm pretty smart. They accepted me. That must make my response better."

Now, appeals to authority aren't always wrong. If two undergrads are arguing over interpreting lab results, it probably would just take one of them saying, "Professor So-and-so said that this was the case," to get the other one to concede. It's just a way to quickly solve an argument using acceptable means; i.e. the professor's expertise. People just want to win arguments as quickly as possible, and they tend to adopt strategies that have worked for them in the past. It's why Kerry keeps mentioning John McCain and the Generals-Who-Support-Me Squad at every opportunity. He's pretty much saying, "You may abhor me, but you like those guys! They agree with me! You should to!" (But he says it without all that, hmm, vigor.)

Ugh, this post is hurting my head. I'll finish tomorrow. More then on my overweening ways.

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