EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (Including those of you who came here expecting a good ‘Dear Reader’ gag),
I’m sitting here in the lobby of the Williamstown Inn waiting for the restaurant to open. The décor is a mix between New England traditional and cat-lady Grandma’s House (though the staff is very nice). The Muzak playing at 5:30 in the morning seems oddly reminiscent of a long time-lapse scene from A Man Called Horse or maybe the soundtrack when William Holden found that nice pacific village in Bridge on the River Kwai.
Now that I got the important stuff out of the way, I gave a talk here at Williams College last night. The paperwork from my speakers’ bureau said I was being brought in by the Young Republicans. But, as the guy caught with a tranny hooker said to the cops, either there was some mistake or this was a clever ruse. I was in fact brought in by a group of impressive kids called simply “Uncomfortable Learning.”
I gather that the group is called this because, at Williams, if your group sounds conservative or libertarian, then lots of students will simply tune out, shun, or dismiss you. I get it, but I can’t say I love this sort of thing in principle. Indeed, it’s a bit ironic given that I was there to give my Tyranny of Clichés
talk, which puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of owning labels and not hiding behind clever euphemisms.
This reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of Parks and Recreation. Fortunately, I’ve been reminded of this episode before. From the December 13, G-File:
I’m reminded of an episode of Parks and Recreation — back when it was reliably funny — in which we learn the town of Pawnee, Indiana, is not only “The First in Friendship and Fourth in Obesity,” but also the home of a bizarre cult that worships an alien-beast God known as Zorp. In the 1970s the cult briefly controlled the city, but these days the aging cultists in their Dockers and flannel shirts aren’t much of a threat. Every now and then they gather in the city’s main park to await the arrival of Zorp, who they are sure will — this time! — destroy the planet and leave it a slag heap. (At these gatherings, Ron Swanson (who is awesome) sells the cultists handcrafted flutes at wildly exorbitant prices. The cultists think it’s hilarious and that Swanson is a sucker because he accepts checks. After all, Zorp is coming and he’s going to melt the whole planet tonight.)
Anyway, I’m reminded of it because the cultists had one brilliant insight. They called themselves the “Reasonablists.” Their thinking was that this would immunize them from criticism, because nobody wants to seem unreasonable or against reason.
“Uncomfortable learning” appears to be working because while kids find it easy to be closed-minded about conservatism, they are intrigued by “uncomfortable learning.” It sounds so subversive. It’s like when Chief Wiggum won’t let his kid Ralph play in his gun storage room. When little Ralph tries to get in, egged on by Bart, Wiggum exclaims, “What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?”
The room was pretty much full, which was good given the terrible date and time of the speech (5:00 P.M. on Spring Fling night) but better than that, there was a much higher proportion of liberal college kids than I often get of late (when not debating a liberal). For instance, when I recently went to Boulder — a far more left-wing school than Williams — I had very few actual students, never mind left-wing students there. I go to a lot of campuses, but the administrations are usually loath to promote the event and professors often tell their students outright not to attend, so as to avoid the, you know, uncomfortable learning. I gather the administration at Williams isn’t much help to the Uncomfortable Learning kids, but somehow the group got liberal kids to come and endure all the discomfort. Aside from the eye rolls, intellectually insecure giggles and smug knowing looks a few gave each other from time to time, they were admirably polite and engaged, even during the Q&A. I even got a few laughs out of them (“Yeah, but then they all yelled ‘Put your pants back on!’” — The Couch).