Thursday, January 06, 2005

 

Pencil-Necked Geek




I yam what I yam.
--Popeye



At Dartmouth College, circa 1975, when I matriculated, a "pencil-necked geek" was the most common term for someone who studied too much or took academics too seriously.

Dartmouth was one of a class of experiences in my life which, taken altogether, have convinced me that Humankind is significantly brainwashed by its own ideas. We share all sorts of nearly Universal notions which nearly everybody uncritically accepts even though it is reasonably obvious that they aren't true.

I believe in this because there have been a number of times in my life when it has taken me an amazingly long time to see past the bullshit. One of these was when it finally dawned on me that Dartmouth is, or was in my day, basically an anti-intellectual place. It just seemed hard to believe at first, because it was a famous school, cost a lot, and was well-regarded; it seemed a foregone conclusion that intellectual pursuits would be paramount at such a place. But as soon as I pried my eyes open I realized that the evidence of anti-intellectualism was everywhere--in the attitudes of the kids, in the nature of the curricula, in the pedagogic styles of the professors, in the structure of the requirements--everywhere. I eventually came to believe that Dartmouth's primary institutional function was to help prevent the downward mobility of upper-class and upper-middle-class kids. Which didn't work in my case, but never mind about that. Anyway, it was made quite clear by the prevailing social norms that you were not supposed to study too much, reading was for PNG's, everybody was expected to participate whenever there was a party going on, and--especially--people were not supposed to actually enjoy things like Shakespeare. Try to talk about some academic subject like that at a keg party, and people would boo you, and, eventually, if you didn't stop, pour beer on you; although it wasn't so enthusiastically expressed, the same proscriptions more or less held true for every place and all times except when you were in class.

Of course, being basically a sheep, I went along with all this, until I realized that my rough untutored moral clay was slowly being molded into the shape of a reactionary greedhead asshole. Then, it finally began to become clear to me that this wasn't who I really was. Yes, deep down inside of me there was a pencil-necked, politically progessive, arty, hippie geek struggling to get out. (What can I say? See Popeye quote.)

I've fantasized from time to time about what would have become of me if I had actually gone to a college in which the opposite values were in force, that is if such a place exists. I mean a college where studying is encouraged, partying is frowned upon, students actually do discuss ideas, and real academic achievement is valued above things such as, say, punching out windowpanes, dragging couches into the street and setting them on fire, or chugging beer until you forget your name. I probably would have gone along with that, too, and I wonder where I would have ended up then.

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