Another Reason You Should Have Listened in English Class

Bill O’Reilly wants an explanation. Evidently, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times. This, O’Reilly (and anyone else who refers to the President as “that Kenyan”) is the smoking gun on the biggest scandal to hit the White House since Watergate. Or Benghazi. Or the birth certificate. Or shooting skeet. Or the stolen election (Obama’s not Bush’). Or any other daily event from a Democratic president.

Creative writing graduates used to work for magazines. Now they get hired by FoxNews.

The problem with the “smoking gun” is there is no gun or smoke. (Mostly because Obama is an anti-gun liberal who daily tramples on the second amendment according to my crazy Facebook friend. He might have a smoking rubber band or smoking jacket. Never a gun.)

Clearly, Mr. O’Reilly, a man who reminds his listeners on a regular basis that he used to teach in public schools (therefore, by implication, he is an educational expert and just a regular guy who happens to earn $10 million a year), didn’t teach an English class where they discussed metonymy and synecdoche.

Metonymy, for those of you who listened as well as Mr. O’Reilly, is what us fancy pants English professors (and other educated folks) call a figure of speech. When we talk about Hollywood, we might really mean the movie industry. We talk about our bosses as “Suits,” call those liberal, pinko communists in the Main Stream Media (or the Lame Stream Media as some folks so cleverly call it) the “Press,” and, on a much simpler level, offer someone a shoulder to cry on. Trust me–they don’t expect you to just hand them the shoulder. That would be creepy. And gross.

Synecdoche is another of those terms you were supposed to learn in the 8th grade that we use when we talk about a part of something to refer to the whole. Sometimes, we flip-flop and refer to the whole when we really mean a smaller part. For instance, we might call for “all hands on deck” in times of trouble, even though we really want legs, torsos, and heads also. We ask for someone’s “John Hancock” on a document to signal their approval, and a cattle thief will steal a “head of cattle.” Presumably, he took the rest of the cow also. The head isn’t worth all that much and they are difficult to detach.

Admittedly, these two terms are easy to confuse. Both are subsets of metaphor and, if you ever plan to teach English or pontificate after a few beers at an office party, you want to understand the finer distinctions between the two terms. Everyone loves that guy at the party.

But if you are simply going to bloviate on national television, you should at the very least understand that going to the White House doesn’t equate to visiting with the President because 1) the White House is an actual house with many rooms; 2) there are an awful lot of people who work in the White House; and 3) you are supposed to have an actual working brain in your head if you make $10 million a year.

As a “news station,” and I use that term loosely with FoxNews, they regularly report that “The White House said . . .” For consistency’s sake, do we assume FoxNews actually believes the White House is talking?

Of course not. (We hope?)

When the White House releases a press release, we realize as listeners this is metonymy–the White House equals the president and his staff. And, more importantly (since it’s Friday and understanding words can sometimes give us a headache) when we go to the White House Visitor Access Records, we notice that Shulman visited with many people not named Barack Obama. In fact, as the director of the IRS, the agency responsible for coordinating health care exchanges, Shulman met with various people in the other agencies undertaking this massive attempt at providing nominal health care for American citizens.

But why let the facts get in the way. Again.

I’ll admit that I’m no fan of the IRS tax laws and I have mixed feelings about nationalized health care. There are even days where I don’t like what I hear coming from the White House (see me use metonymy in a sentence! You try it). But let’s stop spending all our time pounding the scandal drumbeat on this one.

There’s bound to be a stained dress somewhere on which Republicans can tie their impeachment hopes.

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Repeating It Doesn’t Make It True

Back in the early 1990s, Saturday Night Live had a character who began his skit sitting in front of a mirror repeating positive comments about himself. I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and doggone it, he would say to his image, people like me. The rest of the skit mocks Stuart Smalley’s willingness to open up and share his consistent slides into shame spirals. His guests inevitably reveal deep, recessed emotional weaknesses, whether real or imagined, and finish the skit repeating positive comments to themselves in a mirror.

He’s a character that reveled in his dysfunction.

The idea, of course, was to satirize the self-help/self-esteem movement in America. What we see in the mirror, the skit reminds us, isn’t necessarily what everyone else sees. More importantly, the face we put on to meet the faces that we meet is often constructed on thinly hidden lies, half-truths, and self-deceptions.

As we head back to work after a Memorial Day full of parades, speeches, and declarations of American superiority, I’m reminded of Stuart Smalley and Saturday Night Live.

I will say, and argue, that America is a great nation. We have unprecedented freedoms and opportunities that virtually no one else on earth can offer. People aren’t sneaking into the country because we are all so good-looking and they have a hankering for Big Macs, KFC, and 200 cable channels.

But I think we have too many politicians and their constituents who are staring in the mirror and seeing images that might not exist.

The greatness of America has always been in our potential to get better. Our power as a nation is directly proportional to our willingness to see what’s actually in the mirror not what we wish was in the mirror. Our dysfunction fed our innovation.

And we have transformed the world. Let’s make no mistake: America has done more good than harm over the course of time. Our intentions are, almost always, noble and democratic.

Yet, we seem to be losing that self-critical sense of our national self. Patriotism, increasingly, is defined by loyalty to the American brand and not to the ideals of America.

In Texas, we recently abandoned our state curriculum provider because they asked students to consider whether the Boston Tea Party participants were terrorists in the eyes of the British in the 18th century. We’ve narrowly defined what kind of history can be taught for credit at the college level and eliminated those courses with too much “ethnic” studies.

In my hometown, we are hearing more and more invocations at public events delivered by elected officials and school administrators that are aggressively Christian, denying the very real possibility someone in the audience might not see Jesus as her lord and savior.

And criticizing America or admitting fault has become a treasonous offense to some.

This staunch rejection that other views exist, this stubborn unwillingness to recognize our flaws, and this radically un-American emphasis on unity of thought has turned us into the Stuart Smalley of the international stage. We profess freedom, we trumpet the Bill of Rights, but we too often insist on narrow dogmatic interpretations and actions.

We stare in the mirror and believe anything our image says. Just because we repeat it, though, doesn’t make it true.

We have, it seems, lost our collective confidence that our flaws, and recognizing those flaws, makes us stronger.

America became a great nation by embracing our empathy for the poor and downtrodden. We willingly stole the best parts of other cultures, learned from our mistakes, and rejected the totalitarian dogma of the past. We might be slow to apologize but we work hard to correct our mistakes.

This nation was built on dysfunction and diversity, disgust and desire, contradiction and consistency.

As we reflect on this past weekend and our Memorial Day celebrations, we should note the men and women fought for those inconsistencies and those flaws. We memorialize their sacrifice not for our Christian nation but for our democratic ideals.

We are smart enough. We are good enough. But, doggone it, we can get better if we stop pretending the image in the mirror is perfect.

Turning Off and Tuning Out

I’ll admit that I’m a political junkie and a news addict. I read multiple papers each day, listen to NPR, check out CNN, and Fox News. Andrew Sullivan and the Huffington Post are must reads throughout the day. Slate, the Economist Magazine, Mother Jones, and the National Review make my weekly reading list. Heck, I even check out Bill O’Reilly on occasion just to hear what the crackpots are thinking.

But I am growing weary of the idiocy that passes for political thought in America today. Nancy Pelosi has decided President George Bush is to blame for the IRS scandal while she defends President Obama because he can’t know everything that happens in every government department. One assumes, Speaker Pelosi, that if the current President doesn’t know what’s going on, perhaps the ex-president is equally in the dark?

Rep. Stephen Fincher voted against food stamps (because the bible told him to) while accepting millions in farm subsidies for his family farm. Don’t you wonder if politicians ever listen what they actually say? Food stamps just make individuals dependent on the government, Rep. Fincher argues, farm subsidies help those farms that are struggling when times get tough.

Huh?

I’m no economist, and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I’m fairly certain one of the basic tenets of the free market is, in fact, not propping up businesses with tax dollars. The free market only works, Mr. Fincher, if some businesses fail.

Yet, I still listen, read, and watch the news, enjoying that sense of ironic detachment as we watch politicians perform linguistic gymnastics justifying hypocritical and contradictory ideas.

Until this week.

As I listened to Senator Rand Paul defend Apple computers for paying what they “legally” owe, regardless of the nefarious methods by which they avoid paying their fair share, I realized I had enough. At some point, the absurdity of hearings celebrating Apple’s ability to avoid paying taxes while holding hearings across the street about the IRS investigating conservative political organizations to be sure they pay the correct taxes was just too much.

And I turned off NPR earlier this week when Sen. Levin of Michigan refused to recognize that perhaps, just maybe, Congress might need to accept a little, tee-tiny amount of blame for passing ridiculously complex tax laws and using Capitol Hill hearings as opportunities to politicize and demonize everything from apple juice to disaster aid. Is it any wonder that various agencies and workers investigate groups their powerful political supporters characterize as nazis and terror groups?

What really pushed me over the edge, though, was listening to President Obama tell us, yet again, that he plans to close Gitmo and ask Congress to re-define the use of drones in the war on terror. Great goals all, and I have a great deal of sympathy for the President’s inability to convince Congress Gitmo is largely a concentration camp whose mere existence is offensive to American ideals of truth, justice, and fairness, but I find his stance on drones disingenuous. If you don’t like the way we use drones, Mr. President, stop using them that way. Just because an act is legal doesn’t mean you actually have to perform that action.

We shouldn’t have to pass a law showing us the moral path.

But, as I was falling over that ledge, the Republicans started throwing rocks from above. Evidently, the mere act of giving Congress the task of defining legal drone use and the simple hint that we might re-define the war on terror equates to letting the terrorists win. Remember, though the President is a Kenyan born Muslim who is trying to enact Sharia law in place of the Constitution. Ironically, of course, too many of those politicians ready and willing to kill in the name of American freedom deferred when their names where called back when it mattered.

Because, in American politics today, hate has replaced honest disagreement. Personal attack has replaced ideological differences.

And I’m fairly certain personal ambition has replaced willing public service.

This weekend the politicians can go on tv and explain how they can vote against disaster aid for the east coast while demanding it for the mid-west. The sons and daughters of immigrants, both legal and illegal, can argue about protecting our borders and deporting human beings. Married men and women can stand with their spouses while telling the rest of us who we can, and can’t, marry.

And they can all attack the IRS and our uneven, hypocritical, unethical, and incomprehensible system of taxation while never admitting they have seen the enemy and it is them.

But this weekend, as we honor those men and women who serve our country protecting my right to be apathetic and my elected representatives’ right to say stupid things, I’m turning off and turning out.

I’m pretty sure when I tune back in Tuesday, I won’t have missed much.

To Graduates Anywhere–Keep it Simple

I’ve been on a sort of forced vacation from blog posting here of late. Between grading papers, administrative tasks, my oldest son’s impending graduation, my other son’s baseball (and subsequent injury, doctor’s visits, and rehab), free time has become an increasingly precious commodity. By the time I sit down to write, all the blog posts running through my mind during the day have, evidently, leaked out my ears. My brain, when it’s tired, returns to that blank slate state, focused much more intently on a cold beer and a soft couch.

Somedays, heck, some weeks, that seems to start about 10:00 in the morning.

Even so, I’ve been thinking a good bit about graduations lately. Angelo State just minted around 400 new college graduates. My son’s high school will push around 650 kids out into the “real” world in the coming weeks.

Fortunately for them, hiring is trending up, they have all those graduation gifts (to use or pawn), and their student loan payments don’t start for 6 months (the high schoolers aren’t even in debt yet!).

Unfortunately for them, to get that diploma they have to listen to a variety of speakers offer advice and words of wisdom. As someone who once delivered a graduation speech, I’m fairly certain no one sets out to be boring.

Some people, though, can’t help it.

Beyond the cliches and awful advice usually delivered in a speech designed less to inspire than to avoid offending anyone, too many graduation speakers forget the first rule of commencement addresses. Rule #1–No one really cares what you have to say. These poor kids just spent 4 (or 6 or 8) years listening to lectures. They have drinks on ice and life to live. The most important thing to remember in Rule #1–all graduation speeches should be 6 minutes or less.

As I prepare myself for my older son’s graduation, and after listening to somewhere around 30 commencement addresses at Angelo State, I’ve decided to write my new and improved commencement address.

To set the stage appropriately, anyone reading should be sure your bladder is half full, your sight lines are partially obscured, and start playing a tape of a baby crying and an old person coughing in the background. Since acoustics are usually awful at most venues, please also skip every 15nth word. You wouldn’t hear those during the ceremony anyway.

I stand tall in my regalia at the podium and clear my voice:

Graduates of the Class of 2013. I am the only thing standing between you and being officially classified as unemployed. As such, I want to be the first to welcome you to a life that will no longer be lived in 50 to 120 minute increments, there is no make-up work or extra credit, and you don’t get a break in the middle of spring to re-charge your batteries.

In the coming weeks, you will have advice thrust upon you from every direction. Your parents, your crazy, half-drunken Uncle Joe, teachers, politicians, and, for some of you, total strangers who just feel compelled to impart wisdom.

Much of this will be contradictory and some of it will be incomprehensible.

Some of it might even be illegal and immoral.

Even though I’m standing here, dressed in a medieval robe as we re-enact an odd ancient tradition, I am fully aware that by your graduation party I will just be “some guy” who delivered the commencement address. And yet, the price of your diploma will be the next 5 minutes of advice.

1. As you leave the coliseum today, I ask you to enjoy the simple things in life. Many of you, way back in your sophomore year, read (or were assigned) Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Wilder’s play focuses our attention on the seemingly mundane daily life of Grover’s Corners. Before we start the play, I ask my students to figure out how many hours they have been alive. The math is pretty easy: There are 168 hours in a week, 8765 hours in a year, and 19848 in 22 years. How many hours, I ask my students, include amazing, incredible, life changing events?

Not many. In fact, one of the major take-aways from Wilder’s play is that our cultural emphasis on weddings, funerals, child-birth, graduations, etc. causes us to miss the joy we might see each morning at breakfast. If you total up all the amazing moments in your life, even including the moments from today (this speech!), you might have a couple of hours. Total. Over the course of 22 years.

But it’s more than simply focusing on living in the moment. I want you to literally enjoy simplicity: a short drive to work, an ice chest full of cold drinks on a hot day, a moment of rest on a busy day, shade, a pretty woman and a handsome man (or a handsome woman and a pretty man), a good cry and a belly laugh. Life can seem like a complex series of interconnected paths. Revel in moments of clarity and ease.

2. Don’t worry about finding a job that you love. Find a job that lets you do what you love. But most of all–find a job.

We’ve been bombarding you for years about following your passion and creating a coherent path to success. For years now, we’ve given you tests and surveys to find the ideal career for your personality. I’m sorry. We’ve sold you a bill of goods.

The ugly reality is that many of us don’t love our jobs. I like my job. It pays the bills, but most of all it lets me travel, think, read, and hang out with smart people. If you love to play softball on the weekends, find a job that feeds that desire. If you like to work in a quiet place away from stress and crazy people, find a job that let’s you do such things. If you want to make a lot of money, find a job (or two or three) that let’s you put money in the bank.

Simply put: where you work doesn’t define your life. We call it a job; we call it work. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You learned to like broccoli: you can learn to like your job.

3. Make enough money to live the life you want but live on the money you make. It’s pretty simple math. Don’t spend more than you make. You can’t graduate from high school or college and expect to live a middle class life next week. Your parents had to work to get all that stuff. So do you.

4. Do what you want in life, but want what you are doing. All choices have consequences and we are a product of those choices. I hate to get all existential on you so close to graduation, but you are faced at any given moment with thousands of choices. You could stand up right now, sling your cap in the air, and throw your chair at the stage yelling “Chuck Norris is god.” I’ll pause to see if anyone wants to take the chance.

You can go out drinking on your anniversary, skip your child’s birth for a business meeting, move to a city you might not like, and visit your in-laws every Thanksgiving.

Or not.

If you choose to visit the in-laws, don’t pout. You are doing what you want because you made a choice. Own that choice. Make it yours. Don’t be a victim. Or a martyr. You always have a choice in those moments. If you embrace the power to choose, you can seize control of your life.

Just outside of Weatherford, TX there is a sign that says something like “Your are His child. Make Him proud.” I’m not a particularly religious man and most religious advertising usually offends me, so I’m going to secularize the sign and remind you that you are someone’s child. Make her proud.

Remember, too, that you are someone’s graduate. Make us proud.

Peace.

Sometimes We Just Get What We Deserve

My favorite scene in Homer’s The Odyssey is the closing banquet. Odysseus has revealed himself as the returned king and he and Telemachus slaughter the gluttonous suitors. These suitors, all sons of nobleman in Ithaca and the surrounding kingdoms, have been living in Odysseus’ castle, wooing his wife, and making merry with the maids. It is, quite frankly, one of the bloodiest scenes in literature. Ever.

But that’s not why I like it. The scene, like so much of the epic poem, asks readers to contemplate the growing rift between humanity and theology. The poem ends with the gods ensuring peace, letting us know that our epic poem is largely supportive of a theologically-centered world. Odysseus survives because he learns to follow the dictates of the gods. The suitors die because they chose a different path.

In the poem, Odysseus has been gone 19 years and the suitors want Penelope to choose a new husband, effectively crowning a new king. They demand, they tell Penelope repeatedly, justice. Never mind, of course, that they are breaking the rules of hospitality and that there is no evidence Odysseus is dead.

Once Odysseus and Telemachus lock the door of the great hall and the spears start to fly, the suitors change their tune. As blood flows and suitors fall, the survivors begin begging for mercy, blaming various other suitors, arguing they were fooled into eating Odysseus’s food, teased by Penelope, and tricked by the maids. (Because it’s not an ancient text if we can’t find a way to blame the women.)

The poem reminds (or teaches them for the first time) my students that the battle between the secular and religious didn’t begin with liberal democrats and the Supreme Court. In fact, the place of religion in the public square (or the public square in religion) has been a point of contention for a long time. After all Homer’s epic poem is committed to paper about the same time as the bible and they are set in the same approximate region.

At the end of the day, though, this is very much a poem about justice versus mercy. But justice, I tell my students, is a dicey thing to demand. Mercy, we eventually discover, is a harder thing to expect.

I’m reminded of the suitors at the end of every semester. That low whining noise you think you hear this weekend is the sound of thousands of college students begging for mercy. Like the suitors, these kids started the semester asking for justice but as the red ink flows, they begin begging for mercy.

They want half-credit for partial answers, points for attendance, credit for answers that might not be right but they aren’t technically wrong, and grades that reward effort.

To be fair, we are only talking about a select few students who email asking me to “round up because I really need to move on” or leaving voice mails reminding me “I studied hard even if the test scores were bad.”

My favorite, of course, is the ever popular, “I don’t think it’s fair that you are failing me.”

I really enjoy it when they email my department chair, dean, or even the president directly.

At the risk of sounding like a liberal, hippie professor, I tell my students, perhaps we should examine the meaning of justice and fairness. We have this social concept, perpetuated often by political ideology, that justice is blind and objective.

Yet, when we look back at Odysseus and the suitors, clearly the meaning of the word is in play. When Odysseus originally returns to Ithaca, his justice differs from the suitors’ justice. Likewise, our own justice system is littered with nuanced examinations of justice, sprinkled with exceptions that offer mercy. We also see nuance that creates unnecessary punishment that exceeds logical, just explanations.

What, we ask, is just payment for smoking marijuana? Snorting coke? Smoking crack?

According to our justice system, the punishment depends on the circumstances and the state in which you live.

In other words, I tell my students, fairness and justice are often in the eye of the beholder and the social system within which we exist. I’m fairly certain, I remind my whining students, the kids who earned an A are pretty sure justice has been served. Those students worked hard and learned the materials. You, I say as politely as possible, only worked hard.

Effort only matters if it produces results. We don’t, or at least we shouldn’t, give out blue ribbons just because you graced us with your presence.

And sometimes we don’t get justice or mercy. We just get what we deserve.

I Should Have Listened to My Mother

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m thinking about buying my sons a shirt that says “I should have listened to my mother” on the front and “I never thought that would happen” on the back. The shirt would have casts, splints, and medical bills all over it. I might buy my wife her own that says “Don’t blame me. I told him it was a bad idea.”

When my wife and I started dating, we had the requisite conversation about having kids. I didn’t want any. She wanted 100 (or 6 but once you get past zero it might as well be 100). They are not, contrary to popular literary novels, cheaper by the dozen.

I argued, quite logically of course, that kids were expensive both financially and emotionally. They expect to eat on a regular basis, they want clothes, cable tv, and they will drive us to drink. Someday, I said with fear in my voice, they will want to go to college. Think, too, I argued, of all the memories they will have to repress growing up with us as parents!

And think of all the pain and agony we will endure. They cry. We spend two years wiping body parts that should remain private. They scream. They get hurt. They want stuff.

She just smiled.

Naturally, we had two boys. It’s not zero, but at least it’s better than 6.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids and being responsible for them has made me a better person. They have brought joy to our lives and I’m glad we had them.

But, I was right. They are expensive. They eat. A lot. All the time.

Worse yet, I’ve wiped backsides, brushed away tears, and fought the agony while watching them in pain.

And boy do they have pain. Repeatedly. There was that party “everyone” went to. There was that girl who never knew he existed. That class “all” his friends were in while he was with “no one” he knew. And a thousand other social cuts we only know happened because they came home in a rotten mood.

There were also broken bones, sprained ankles, and one finger tip cut off in a freak accident.

While I could write about the high cost of health care, the rising costs of medical insurance, and the ridiculous (and totally incomprehensible) pricing models used by hospitals and doctors, let’s all admit that the biggest cost of having kids is the emotional one. (Of course, a $2,500 medical bill just adds to the emotional baggage of any injury.)

Life is a calculated risk of probability versus possibility. We have to work hard to raise kids who make good choices but who aren’t scared to take chances. Parenting, it seems to me, is a delicate balance between protecting children and letting them roam free. As they get older, we should give them more rope, more freedom, and let them learn how to live life in a way that fits their personality.

Until they get hurt and you are forced to call into question your overall philosophy. And then you realize why some parents are overprotective and swirl around setting play dates and manufacturing friends.

It’s not about making sure little Johnny is happy. I’m pretty sure they are trying to avoid the pain and agony of injury or unpopularity.

Fortunately, we aren’t faced with a great tragedy and in my rational mind I know we are lucky parents. Our kids are well-behaved, making good grades, and we’ve never had to bail them out of jail (although they are young). Broken bones and hearts heal.

But we were reminded (yet again) this weekend that 15 year olds don’t always make good decisions. My son, a week away from a regional baseball playoff game, decided to tubing. The  kind where someone drives a boat really fast. He is the lead off hitter and starting right fielder. Or, rather, he was the lead off hitter. Now he’s a spectator with a $13,000 bone screw in his finger because he has a bone broken off at the interphalangeal joint. (The good thing about kids who get hurt a lot is you learn all the important body part names. Need any advice about fingers? Shoulders? Knees? I’m your guy. Doctors sigh when they see us coming.)

There’s a reason 15 year olds don’t vote.

Admittedly, watching him in pain was no fun, but they make little pills that help (for him–he wouldn’t share). What they don’t have is a pill to help when he has to call his coach and admit he was stupid at the wrong time.

Or a pill to help tonight when he’s not in the line up for such an important game.

And we have to watch him, knowing he’s hurting, and realize there’s nothing we can do.

Except make some shirts that say “He should have listened to his mother.”

Keep Your Hands Where I Can See Them

greatpornexperiment

The Great Porn Experiment–TEDTalk (Click to view the 15 minute video)

In my English 1302 course, my students have to write a research paper and I allow them to choose any topic that interests them. Except abortion, Elvis sightings, the death penalty, and UFOs: “No one, especially a first year college student,” I tell them, “can separate belief from opinion, fact from fiction, or faith from rationality with regard to any of those topics.” More important, these are such highly charged and emotional issues that students too often assume the grade is relative to whether I agree or disagree with them. Any potential learning goes out the window when they assume they failed because I am either 1) a liberal pinko communist sympathizer or 2) a conservative right wing nut job.

In other words, my life is much easier if we just avoid certain topics. Plus, half the students in my class did an awful job in their high school debate class defending the right to life or the right to choose. Budding young Clarence Darrow’s they are not.

So, shortly after I started teaching when a student told me he wanted to write about porn addiction, my only recourse was to tell him no visual aids. (I had to say the same thing to the student who wanted to write about the lingerie retail business, arguing for the positive psychological impact of matching bras and panties. It was a strange semester.)

My porn addiction student (and, yes, when you’ve taught enough students that’s the only way we can remember them sometimes) did a pretty good job. His argument, simply put, was that the internet was transforming the distribution of pornography and the easy availability would create addictions. These addictions would destroy families, he argued, and lead to the downfall of civilization. (Remember–he was 18. Hyperbole is second nature to many first year college writers. Notably, he and lingerie woman should have joined forces–she argued that Victoria’s Secret might save marriages by making women feel sexy and confident.)

Despite his over zealous claims at the end of his essay, his paper hinged not on pornography itself (although he argued any porn was bad porn). Instead, he argued that the internet would increase the amount of porn people saw and that increase would create a corresponding increase in divorce.

For an 18 year old student, the argument was relatively sophisticated and he did a pretty good job of gathering scholarly sources. Even at the time, I had my doubts about some of his conclusions, but the nature of a first year research paper isn’t to be perfect. His job was to gather scholarly papers, write well, and use that information to think critically about a topic.

My student was probably wrong about increased porn availability and divorce, but it does appear that he was correct in foreseeing the inherent dangers of wide-spread pornography.

I’m sure, at this point in the blog, I should make the requisite announcement that I’m no internet porn expert, but I should also note that I have two teen-age boys at home. My wife and I, as you might imagine, are cognizant of the delicate balancing act between teaching our kids how to respect the human body, working hard to protect them from inappropriate images, and recognizing that their bodies are taking that evolutionary ride toward manhood.

But, in our ever connected world, their opportunities often exceed our ability to monitor them.

They are, in short, becoming increasingly aware of their manhood. (Although as a dad, I think I’m supposed to hitch up my pants, shrug my shoulders, and declare proudly “There ain’t nothing short about their manhood. If you know what I mean.”) We know they’ve both accessed porn on our computer. (I can assure you that we don’t make it easy but passwords and a central location are no match for a determined teenager.)

Either way, as we are able to increase our understanding of the brain via neuroscience and as we watch the first generation truly raised on the easy availability of high speed internet, we can begin measuring the impact of long-term exposure to, well, exposure.

And it’s not pretty. Scientists are finding that long term exposure to internet porn, coupled with, well, auto-coupling creates both physical and psychological problems. In essence, virtual stimulation might stop real penetration. As important, viewing internet port and masturbating creates a chemical reaction that mirrors other addictions. As viewers get addicted, they, literally, can’t get an erection and perform in real life. (It’s like being addicted to whiskey without the hangover or bad breath!)

In other words, the irony of internet porn is that you know 100 different positions, but you can’t actually perform any of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not interested in making light of the situation. (Although I’m an American male and talking about sex and masturbation brings out the junior high kid in me.)

Any addiction is problematic and I suspect we will see more and more studies looking at the brain’s reaction to visual stimuli and the internet. We already are witnessing the different ways these students interact with material and the influence visual stimuli have on the evolution of the brain. We know, simply put, that the internet is re-wiring that mass of tissue between our ears. As our Net Generation goes to college, such studies will be increasingly important and, perhaps, helpful.

Especially, if we can find a way to get kids hooked on reading novels. I guess putting pictures of naked bodies in the books isn’t a good idea, though.

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)