I will curse you - Macleans.ca

I will curse you

Just as I was cursed.


Like all good scholars in the humanities, I try to teach my students to be critical and independent thinkers. By that I mean a lot of things, but much of it means questioning what one is told and to be courageous in taking a contrary position when that position seems justified. I mean that people should learn to be creative in their thinking and be prepared to marshal a case for their positions. I mean that people should be principled in their thinking and really try to apply those principles in their every day life.

The problem is, if one really does make a habit of thinking this way, it makes every day life a lot harder. Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon before my time, but on a daily basis I am enraged, saddened, or exasperated by things that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t bother me (or bother me so much) if I was not so well educated. I don’t feel right donating blood, for instance, because I think their policy on gay donors is discriminatory; I get cock-eyed looks every November because I won’t wear a poppy because I feel it glorifies war; I can’t donate to my friend’s effort to raise money for MADD because I disagree with that organization’s campaign on random breathalyzer tests. The list goes on. I’m not saying that mine are the only positions an educated person could hold on these issues; I’m saying that anyone who is really well-educated in the sense I mean is going to constantly be confronted with things that don’t seem right, but would have in a more blissful time.

I once read a  news story about an activist who was nearly forced to go shoeless because every shoe he looked at raised a moral objection: no leather for the sake of animal rights, nothing made in China for the sake of human rights, and so on. I feel for that guy every time the driver in front of me fails to signal his turn and I immediately see it as an affront to the nature of civilization.

The worst part is that I can’t even explain myself to most people because they have no interest in following my argument because they are convinced, no matter what I say, that I couldn’t possibly be right. My facts and arguments are dismissed as crazy ivory-tower political correctness and that’s the end of the story. Poppy is good, drunk driving is bad, what the f^%k is your problem, Pettigrew? Regular readers of this space will have seen this reaction already — and may possibly be having it right now.

Education is a gift and a curse. It is a gift because it allows you to see things that others don’t see; it is a curse for the same reason.


I will curse you

  1. That story of the shoeless activist makes me think that if people really took their morality all the way we’d be wandering ascetics.

    This, I’m told is why the buddhists say life is suffering. We all must kill something else to eat afterall!

  2. Personally, I think there is precious little connection between formal education and critical thinking. Social just organizations and protest rallies are overflowing with individuals who have little if any post-secondary education. Universities are overflowing with people who wouldn’t recognize a lousy argument if hit them in the head. I would guess that it’s a relative minority of people who are changed by education. I would bet that the majority of consciousnesses are raised by first-hand experience of injustice.

  3. You just described why I am now, after 4 years of Undergraduate education, a much more irritating person to spend time with.

  4. I totally agree how having too much knowledge and about too many things can make life harder for you. I would say to analyse the situationa and act accordingly, but some people might call that being hypocritical. No one said it was easy

  5. I hope that you follow your ridiculous logic the next time you’re in need of transfusion. Just because Canadian Blood Services has archaic regulations about donating blood doesn’t mean there aren’t millions of Canadians in need of blood. Your ‘intelligence’ seems only to be an excuse.

  6. Well Canadian Blood Services seems to think that people are more likely to die from receiving gay blood than from receiving no blood at all, so I’m happy to hold them to that and not donate until they need blood enough to accept it from everyone–or at least everyone who has a demonstrable record of safe behavior. They obviously don’t need my help currently.