Bureaucrats, Bubbles, Flavor
what has happened has happened. pain is impossible terrain on which to find proper footing much less dig. make of the dirt a pickaxe with which to break frozen, bloodblack ground. pray god arms hold, ground gives.
I am reading Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, and I am reading slowly. The print in the copy I have is very small, and the ideas are very dense. Reading philosophy, like this, reminds me of college - undergrad – reading Heart of Darkness in my dorm room, smoking cigarettes, reading to myself out loud so I could better understand because I wanted so badly to understand and I wanted to understand the book better than most of my peers in order to impress my professor who I called “Dr.” or “Professor” and who I just call “Lynn” because she is my friend and has not been my Professor since I was a girl.
Based on what I have recently learned, Hannah Arendt was quite a character, and her coverage of Eichmann’s trial in Israel garnered some controversy as she argued Eichmann was more “bureaucrat” than “Antisemite.” Her evaluation of Eichmann, expounded upon in Eichmann in Israel: A Report on the Banality of Evil – a book I have not yet read, but intend to — speaks to her hypothesis about Nazis like Eichmann. Her argument of “Eichmann as Bureaucrat” seem to remain controversial as I’ve recently watched a number of documentaries about her work, about Eichmann’s trial, and find many talking heads all-to-ready to directly or indirectly attack Arendt’s observation. “He was not a bureaucrat,” said a professor in a film I was watching earlier this week. “He was an Antisemite.” He never mentioned Arendt, but his use of the word “bureaucrat” suggested, to me, a direct response to her arguments.
I am reading Arendt because I am trying to understand what is happening in our world, and in America more specifically. We can be honest now that the Fascists are here in the USA, right? We can see they are Neo-Fascists, not “Nazis” for only the “Nazis” were the Nazis, but fellow Americans who carry the same thoughtless allegiance to “laws” and “rules” and, yes, bureaucracy. The True Bureaucrat is fundamentally not very “bright,” not in the way you or I reader might perceive human “brightness” of the mind, the heart, the soul. The True Bureaucrat has resigned their soul to dictation, rote-ness, and believes “greatness” (as their simple minds can imagine such a thing) comes from pandering to Power, from obeying the letter of Perceived Power’s Law, and for the True Bureaucrat the validation for all immorality, all transgressions of the human heart and soul, comes in the form of the dollar.
As an American, I have had to be True Bureaucrat in the early stages of my professional life. Fortunately, I always chose “helping institutions” – non-profits and schools – and never had to subject myself to overseeing anything that was Objectively Evil. Hannah Arendt wrote much on the subject of “Evil,” and should you want to understand better, you should read her work, not mine. I am not a philosopher, just a storyteller.
I think about Bureaucracy a lot. I am going through a divorce. My ex was always a good bureaucrat. Since she left me on a Sunday morning, my ex has spoken to me twice, and responded to my communications maybe twice. I have had to go forward as though she died. And when she has “deigned” to communicate with me, the language has been strange. Once, tearfully, I showed a text to my friend, “What the fuck is this?” I said. “Why is she talking to me like a corporate robot?” And then I realized that divorce is a True Bureaucrat’s terrain, and she was speaking to me in the language of a Bureaucrat because in her mind, I am nothing anymore but a case file, a set of papers, dollar signs. And this is also why she and her parents, who finance her lawyer, will probably succeed in getting my teacher pension. Not because it is morally “right,” but because from a True Bureaucrat’s point of view, taking my pension is legal and can be done.
From taking $$ from a teacher with stage iv breast cancer, to taking the lives of human beings, so goes the True Bureaucrat’s mind. If it is “legal,” it is “acceptable.” The True Bureaucrat worries not over their soul, thinks not of kindness and compassion because these are things that cannot be codified into “law.” For the True Bureaucrat, what can be done will always trump what is correct, what is good, what is just.
So I read Arendt and apply her thoughts to my American life, and to the Americans who fill my American life. Fascism is here, that much anyone with half-a-brain can clearly see. Congress itself is overrun with moronic bureaucrats who lack both the mental aptitude and moral clarity to make decisions that benefit anyone beyond them and theirs’. Look at Ted Cruz. That man looks like Evil personified, and he is evil, but he is also a True Bureaucrat and bureaucracy, for people like Ted Cruz, absolves them of the hideous things they say and do. Only it doesn’t.
Remember that Leonard Cohen song? Yeah, everybody knows. Everybody might not admit what they know, but they know.
You know what I wanted to know more about last night? Grapefruit and medication. I ordered some groceries and they were out of my beloved Cranberry Lime Polar seltzer, so they replaced it with Grapefruit Seltzer, and in this video, I contemplate the “why” of no-grapefruit with medication, but in the way I might contemplate to a friend or a group of students – minus the f-bombs. Sometimes, with my older students, I allowed for an utterance of “bullshit” or “asshole,” but never the “F Word.” Like my late Uncle Al, I am a fan of f-bombs, but you have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and f-bombs really don’t have a place in the k-12 classroom. This is one thing I still believe about American education.
And I think often about American Education. And seeing that it is mid-May, I think of the feeling I used to get in these halcyon last days of a school year. Circumstances prevented me from seeing the school year through with my middle schoolers in Tucson, but they text me sometimes and call me sometimes and in turn I reply – sometimes with my words, my voice, a picture of the buildings in downtown Chicago. I miss my kids, particularly in May when we used to celebrate together. My heart and mad respect is with all the American k-12 teachers and students who were able to make it through this year.
Six months, give or take, was all I could do in the “trenches.” And everyday was a struggle. I loved my colleagues, my students, my institution, but there was just something about my frail health that made it all the more scary to walk, masked, into a basement (the middle school was in a basement) each morning to teach little ones in a pandemic. This was hard for me. I was often scared, and sometimes not just scared of the pandemic but of new student behaviors I had never before seen in my 20 plus years of classroom teaching. Some new parent aggression I had never known. Some political aggression that astonished me.
At the beginning of the year, there were white Americans who would gather outside of the school in the morning to harangue teachers and students for “masking.” As if we didn’t all have enough pain, a group of white American adults would scream at us, frighten us, frighten the kids except for the kids who would yell back, “Fuck you!” and we adults would say “No, no, Collin. This is not the image we want to present of the 6th grade class . . .”
These white Americans yelled in the faces of my young students, at me, at my fellow teachers about masks in a pandemic. These white Americans, in the early part of the 2021 - 2022 school year, made our lives more frightening because they “have a right to protest.” True Bureaucrats. You have a right to scream outside of a middle school, but should you? The should matters not to the simple mind, to the angry mind, to the True Bureaucrat.
After a while, the protesters stopped coming to yell at us. And sometimes out on the streets, I would let my 6th graders curse them, pretend I didn’t hear. I’m just saying, it was hard. You don’t even know, reader. Unless you were there, or are there. Then you know, and I see you, and I love and admire your strength, your true grit.
If you’re reading this, and you were a Favorite Former, the following YouTube “contemplation” might remind you of times in the classroom, where I struggled to get to a point, never able to get from start to finish as the crow flies, but as my mind flies.
Be good, hooligans.