"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, June 14, 2019

Love Conquers All–New Yalies In The Halls Of Sanctimony

Elliott and Lisa were the perfect couple, matched in every possible way.  Not only were they from the same social strata – New England family, wealth, and reputation – but classmates in the same privileged, elite Ivy League university; and best of all, attuned to the finest that that legacy and upbringing could bring to bear.  They had been raised on Bach, Caravaggio, Blake, and Kant; and learned from the earliest age to respect if not revere the Old Masters of Western tradition, trained to disregard popular cultural malapropisms (e.g. gender fluidity and a priori social equality) and to look askance at dreamy, sophomoric idealism.  They were socially, culturally, and historically attuned.

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It was a surprise for both of them to find themselves matriculated in a university which for all intents and purposes had forgotten its historical legacy – Thomas Hooker, Elihu Yale, the Puritans, the Enlightenment, and the precepts of the new Republic.  The Yale that they entered was as far-fetched and as far afield from the interests of its Founding Fathers as could be imagined.  In a few short decades (Yale in the 60s was still an accurate replica of the first Yale) had become a university just like every other –’ inclusive’, culturally focused (race-gender-ethnicity), closed and clotured, and mainstream.  In a surprisingly short number of years the university had jettisoned all ties to its storied past, the nation’s founding principles, and any sound reasoning.  It had become little more than a ship in a politically correct flotilla drifting about between here and there – an elite mouthpiece for a popular agenda of progressive ideals.

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“What on earth will we do?”, the couple asked.  “Four years of obligation and purpose?” Their fathers had been good Old Blues – Deke, football, Mory’s, Whiffenpoofs, summering in the Vineyard, skiing on the slopes of Gstaad and the high Apennines – men who had never given a second thought to privilege, wealth, and position.  Certain things were given and family, heritage, legacy, and good taste were foremost among them.  Of course some of the graduating class of Elliott’s and Lisa’s fathers went on to greatness (a Vice President, environmentalist, and inventor among them); but most left Yale satisfied and happy that they had fulfilled a promise, were among the elite, and could for all intents and purposes, do whatever they pleased.

The Yale that Elliott and Lisa found was quite different.  While they stilled hewed to the originalism of their fathers – the Enlightenment and the logical, religious basis on which the university was founded – they found themselves attacked and isolated by a new cadre of progressive believers who, despite the tug and tether of Old Blue civility and decorum – to say nothing about historical sense and human nature - screamed for justice, equality, equanimity, world peace, and social harmony.  While one might not have longed for the return of tailgate parties and European social grace, the hysteria of the New Yale was fatiguing at best.  What had happened to circumspection, considered opinion, and logical exegesis?

So be it, the lovers concluded.  We have made our bed now must lie in it; but repose was not in the cards  The curriculum was stacked with post-modernist indecipherability – ‘Slave Journals Of Occupied Georgia – The Roots of Southern Feminism’; or ‘ Gay Boys on the Mississippi – The Untold Stories of Lewis and Clark’; or ‘Robber Barons and the 19th Century One Percent – The Foundations of Capitalist Depredation’ ; and while they had hoped for a a truly liberal curriculum of Blake, Wordsworth, Kant, Russell, and Adam Smith, they found themselves adrift in neo-socialist cant, chapter, and verse.

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Not only were they forced into an obligatory curriculum of victimhood (Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams were taught only within the context of sexual abuse, exploitation, and religious excess) but their social lives were determined by a popular extension of this reactionary history.  They could not simply dance, but had to dance to an approved drummer.  They could not sing, but only sing along to anthems of solidarity, union, and promise. 

They were able to get away from this enforced sanctimony – roadhouses in Wallingford and Berlin, getaways to South Jersey and Rhode Island, and weekends in West Virginia – but five days a week they had to submit to the irremediable, incessant clamor to reform, to be one of the guys to buy into the progressive intent.

Elliott’s second cousins were from South Jersey – gun shop owners, big game hunters, Reagan conservatives, and delightfully free of the cant and circumstance of the Philadelphia Main Line, New York, Washington, and Boston. – and he and Lisa spent many weekends at their hunting lodge in West Virginia where the talk was about hunting, tracking, killing, and self-defense.

Every generation has its refuge – a place away and far from the hammering about doing the right thing.  What characterized  Elliott and Lisa most was this political diffidence – absolute indifference to and boredom with the insistent righteousness of the times.  They were children of the Twenties and not the new century; heirs of the Italian Riviera and not the sanctimony and heraldic goodness of modern America.  They had been born too late, and this Old World sense of class, propriety, ease, and confidence was only a mantel they wore, a Pashmina wrap, a covering, a protection.  Yet they were independent enough to resist being yoked, tethered, and drawn by the powers that be.  They refused the taps of 'intellectual' underground societies, refused invitations to march on the green or on the Washington Mall.  They refused to be dragged behind the dray horse tumbril of group-think. 

What was left?  The Bright College Years were supposed to be happy and socially consequential.  Although liberal politics are supposed to be the purview of the young, they were never meant to interrupt late adolescence and early adulthood  There would be plenty of time for guilt, self-reflection, and angst.

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Fortunately both Elliott and Lisa had been brought up well, and while the blandishments of the campus Left didn’t quite roll off their backs like water off a duck’s, it didn’t wet or soak.  They remained independent, individual, and defiantly separate.

Their love affair amidst the ruins of a great institution was noticed by few.  They, since Freshman Year, were considered alien supernumerary, illegitimate, and marginal.  They were throwbacks to an earlier racist, misogynist past, better to be forgotten, expunged from the yearbook, and dismissed as if they never had existed.

Solidarity and love in adversity, and age-old story of oppression.  Yes, there was the we-against-them quality to the love between Elliott and Lisa, but there was far more to the relationship.  It is always difficult for two young people to survive let alone thrive in an alien, hostile environment; but  as is often the case, adversity anneals proximity.  They were philosophically annealed, bound by a profound sense of historical center and philosophical rectitude.  What was going on around them was temporal , exaggerated, and hysterical; and there can be nothing more found than special, unique intimacy  amidst it.

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