The Making of the Modern World
(How one class does not change your life)
Forgive me for being sentimental and nostalgic. I had promised a rendering of the journey we endured to get past general education requirements, and questioned how I should portray it. No one else really cares about a late night study group and why should they? But I'd like to think that there's an element of familiarity in this, or even the possibility of passing on knowledge.
I'm sure all our epiphanies and side tangents sound much better contextually, but how else will we remember. In the years to come, real life will take over and we will all forget and tell the same stories at our reunions. How relevant will the journey be then?
I'd love to see the justification for Homo floresiensis (yes, the one with the creepy picture in the Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins), or the Ilahita Arapesh, social complexity systems and all. At least Ongka's Big Moka (that tribal gift reciprocation movie) got us free shirts.
But somewhere along the line, we became a collective, and my most vivid memory started with pot. We were walking out of class, from Center 101 (every morning we'd wait for class to start and stare at the saddened biochemistry students coming out; Tim would give off his creeper grin), and this is a tribute to the conversation that occurred.
"Kevin, you left your pot at our place."
"Oh that, okay, you can keep it. I don't need it for a while. Just use it."
"Thanks, we'll get our own eventually."
This then turned into,
"Kevin, pick up your pot. We don't want to keep it."
Of course we were talking about cooking pots, but that didn't stop us from looking like stoned out druggies all those weeks we yelled it on the walk back home. This bonding prepared us for the class with our favorite Marxist, although we called him a commie for the whole year. Professor William Arctander O'brien. If I had Arctander as my middle name, I'd go by it. Professor O'brien looked liked the quintessential English literature professor. He had glasses and unruly white hair. He almost always wore a dress shirt and a blazer and carried around a leather attaché case. I mostly remember the paisley shirt and purple velvet blazer combination. Only once did he come to class donned with aviator glasses and a leather jacket. And he had that voice, that one dripping with distain and refreshing sarcasm. Maybe some of you are laughing at my attention to detail, but he really was my favorite professor.
His course was titled, the Making of the Modern World 5: Revolution, Industry and Empire. (More aptly nicknamed, the Making of Misery and Worry when slaved away on our 10-12 paged research paper complete with annotated bibliographies and photocopies of all our sources). The professor began the class by telling us that what was inside the bottle he was drinking was indeed scotch and water. He brought that bottle everyday to class. Then we talked about the Communist Manifesto and the pitfalls of capitalism. His eyes shone while we discussed Adam Smith and the theory of the "Invisible Hand", the self-serving mentality that led to social welfare nonsense according to the professor. Everyday held a surprise quote.
"People ask me what's my net worth, and I really want to tell them, 'Fuck you, you'll never know'."
Then, came the critique of the university system.
"Why are there undergraduates? You all are just window dressing, to get state funding for important research that makes money. I'm here to teach bullshit like humanities to undergraduates. I get paid for the window dressing. You know, it's really a sad thing too to be an undergraduate and picking your major. Things change, you don't know that what you're studying now might just become useless."
Then came the tirade against the course textbook picked by the department.
"Labeling this chapter the Golden Age of the Meiji Period is like saying, the Golden Age of Nazi Germany."
"The facts, of course, the world doesn't know the facts, most of them don't speak English"
Lastly, commentary on environmental and social injustices.
"Do you know where the rainforest is? It's in the furniture section of Target."
"Why don't you get your sweetheart a diamond, a nice rock for her finger that came from the oppression and human suffering of someone who could have died searching for the gem."
Then the tirade on our class textbook chosen by the department.
"I don't think that Dole stockholders are thinking, 'oh shit' we're running a concentration camp to get our pineapples and bananas."
We developed into a nice system, having tangent quotas and predetermined dinner times for our midterm and final review sessions complete with small dance breaks in between each lecture we covered. The question game was played to kill the time; our question game was rudimentarily made by each writing down questions on scrap paper and putting them into a bag.
"Would you rather eat a brownie-flavored poo or a poo flavored brownie?"
"If you woke up and you were a boy, what would be the first thing you would do?"
"Top or bottom… bunk?"
"What is your most shameful bad habit?"
To which Hannah answered 'coke', and to which Linda replied by asking why it was a bad habit, not once thinking about the inherent drug reference. I love you Linda; it's too easy to reminisce about the times you thought the salmon color people referred to was gray and not pink, or the time I told you about gentlemen's clubs and how they weren't for old men who sat together to drink tea or coffee and to talk about politics.
Our final study sessions were always filled with now infamous inside jokes. Tim, you're not just hot, you're hot hot. We're sorry that we never opened the windows during study sessions, and that made you all too unintentionally attractive. And Tim, we know you love feminist movement.
"Want to hear something funny," Nathan had asked before he paused, "Women's rights."
And of course, our "No Sex" confusion. It makes sense in the context of Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck", because it was all about androgyny and hence sexlessness. It really did sound funnier then. Especially since it was followed by more facebook worthy quotes.
"Ah! Kenny just flashed me."
"No! With his computer screen."
And of course, we made plans to open the Menufesto, a fine dining establishment where peasant's gruel and the Stalin special will be on the menu. We will have Kulak's happy hour too. And our tagline: You can order whatever you want, but you'll all be getting the same thing. At the same price.
I don't know a better transition for our new ideology either, but here it is. We've added another "ism" to the mix, although I'm quite sure this is just a rehashing of everything we've been indoctrinated with. But that's okay. Aloneism. We are all alone in the universe. We are trying to revert the disintegration of love in contemporary Western society. Disintegration that comes from reducing human relations into commodity exchanges in the effort to reduce our loneliness. We are against time-space compression. So, Fordism, bad. We hold our own against other political ideologies of liberalism, facism, totalitarianism, and the façade of democracy that gives us the illusion of choice. No more herd mentality. No more Frued. No more individual accountability. The manifesto is coming, but it's slow because we're working alone.
In the end, we had to decide if this journey was worth it. Did we really just waste two years of our lives making connections where they didn't belong and tarnishing the good name of scholars whose quotes we've pulled out of context in our term papers? Do we go on our merry way being just a number to the university and being complicit in the immorality of the system? Or maybe we did learn something about how the world came to be, and why the systems work the way it does and why history continues to repeat itself. And maybe we can graduate being responsible educators, businesspeople, doctors and/or politicians. Then again, maybe not. It's summer.