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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
8.3 (Summer 2008)
Internal Bickering Nixes Establishment of Private Neo-Conservative Liberal Arts College
Five hundred asphalt-paved acres in the shadow of Teapot Dome, Wyoming, bisected by the raw ditch of what would have been a main conduit for steam pipes and electrical cables, stand as mute testimony to the failure of a consortium of GOP politicos and right-leaning corporate money-givers to agree on the constitution of a proposed “Neo-Conservative” liberal arts college that planners hoped would become the “Harvard and Yale of free-market based, Neo-Conservative humane higher education in the United States.” Logistical planners intended the blacktopped allotment to serve as the “pad” for a series of pre-fabricated, transportable, interlocking and re-combinable building-modules to house the classrooms and administrative offices of the proposed institution. “It would have worked like a giant Lego set,” one architect said, “but that’s appropriate since when we look at Lego blocks, we see the future of American higher education—liberal, illiberal, or whatever.” Organizers had contemplated naming the new school either after Viribus Postum Mallhardt III , Chief Executive Officer of family-owned Mallhardt Agglutinated Ventures and the project’s main financial backer, or Senator Trent Lott (Republican, Mississippi), its most prominent political sponsor. Squabbles over the institutional christening figured centrally in derailing the enterprise. What might have been called Mallhardt College or U-Postum is now known derisively by one splinter-faction as “Trent’s Lot”. The unfinished utilities ditch, filled with stagnant water, carries the derisive moniker “Lott’s Trench”.
Before falling out with his collaborators and suspending his cooperation, the senator had hoped to lend his name to what his aides affectionately dubbed Big Lott’s, with the possibility, after retirement from the Senate, of being named chair of the Graduate Program for Comparative Male Cheerleading Studies. Other issues acting to dampen the ardency of erstwhile lobbyists for “Neo-Conservative humane higher education” concerned the administrative structure, the content of the curriculum, and the extent to which maintenance and other non-academic services might be outsourced to external contractors.
Many curious parties are asking the question: Just what is “Neo-Conservative humane higher education”? Mallhardt Agglutinative Ventures spokesman Dewey Eggbert Pinwhistle, who interned with then House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, agreed to explain the basic concepts. Reaching into his briefcase, Pinwhistle revealed two arcane-looking electronic devices, of different vintages, which he offered to the interviewer’s examination. “Let’s take inventory. What you have in one hand is a large, clumsy, easily breakable RCA vacuum tube of the kind used in the early, room-sized UNIVAC computers. What you have in the other hand, so small that it could be implanted in one of your molars, is a state-of-the-art Whazzmacker Industries twelve-point-eight gigahertz, quadruple-threaded, fifty-system Armageddon Series-6000 microprocessor with the lowest minimal memory and highest neutrino-moderated throughput of any crypto-accelerated low-impedance mother-chip currently on the market.”
How would this approach affect the logistics of higher education delivery? “Let’s view it from the literacy angle—Gutenberg and all that. Do you grasp that Gutenberg invented the printed book over five hundred years ago? What would our economy look like today if we were still yoking oxen to ploughs in our agricultural sector or lacing women into whalebone corsets in our luxury underwear sector? But that’s the way boards of regents tend to look at higher education. Now I’d like you to think of the typical university research library as resembling the old UNIVAC computer,” Pinwhistle said, “and a book sitting somewhere on a shelf as resembling the RCA vacuum tube. It took hundreds of thousands of those books to make a library, and scores of librarians in whalebone corsets to keep it all in order. That’s not even considering the fact that finding any given book involved the tremendously inefficient labor first of discerning the call number in the card catalogue and then of physically retrieving the volume from the shelf. Students, most of whom also resemble vacuum tubes, then had to spend ungodly hours committing to rote obsolete context-specific judgments that had been bequeathed to the Twentieth—or even to the Twenty-First—Century by past centuries that had never even heard of Whazzmacker Industries or crypto-acceleration. Now let’s think of the Whazzmacker Armageddon Series-6000 microchip as representing Neo-Conservative humane higher education. Why carry around a backpack full of five-hundred-year-old books when you can stick a microchip into the rigging of a polyester sports bra and forget about it? The key principles of Neo-Conservative higher education are minimal memory and the highest possible throughput. Instead of squinting at books in a carrel, the educator treats the brain of each student as a processing-core and treats instruction as the crypto-accelerated routing of data.”
Pinwhistle offered another analogy: “Let’s imagine that the cultural heritage of Fifth-Century B.C. Athens, with its brilliant philosophers and politicians, is a large dust bunny clinging to the parquetry in the corner of your grandmother’s Victorian living room. Only it’s a vicious, quasi-sentient dust bunny with really sharp teeth and a nasty, weasel-like disposition, full of rancor, just like all intellectuals. Now let’s imagine that your grandmother is a Nineteenth-Century-type old-fashioned manual carpet sweeper, with pig-bristle mounted gear-driven rotary spools for its action and the whole works housed inside a decorative tin carapace; and let’s imagine further that your grandmother wants to interface with the dust bunny. I mean, who wouldn’t? Okay, you grab ‘grandma’ by her long wooden handle and you keep ramming her jut-jaw-first into the corner—back and forth, back and forth—but the pig-bristle rotary brushes underneath the wheeled sweeper head never get quite far enough into the wall-angle to snag the dust bunny, which mocks you from its asylum, just like the liberal elites always do.”
Pinwhistle warms up to his subject: “Wouldn’t it be better if your grandmother were a sleek 1990s-type Bissell Upright with touch-controlled auto-motion, plenty of amperage, lots of high-powered suction, and a detachable hose with a variety of tools? Now let’s go further than that. Let’s imagine that Socrates, the Father of Philosophers, is a 1920s-type pneumatic transport system in a large metropolitan department store, with almost no back-streaming or out-gassing and with concomitantly high throughput. Next let’s imagine that you are a modern gigabit flash drive of the kind whose price has dramatically decreased in just the last two years thanks to cheap coolie labor in China and the extinction of the mom-and-pop store in small-town America. Hey, that’s what globalization is all about! In one final twist of our thought experiment, let’s imagine that Socrates wants to marry your grandmother. Stranger things have happened. How do you get these two incompatible information networks to interface? The obsolete way is to have a bearded old goat in a dirty chiton start asking your grandmother all sorts of accusatory questions—like what is the good, what is the beautiful, and what is the ratio of your amperage to your suction?”
Pinwhistle continues: “That’s the old model of education. Notice that it never grabs the dust bunny and that it offers no USB port for your flash drive. Neo-Conservative humane higher education operates with a lot more amperage and a lot more suction than the existing federally subsidized type of carpet-sweeper higher education. In it, the education supplier—very much on the model of successful entrepreneurial service industries—brings the incentivization to the student, the way the pizza delivery service brings the pie to your door or the way Deborah Jeane Palfrey brings the svelte cocktail party escort to the congressman. Think of old-fashioned education as the 1890 Sears Catalogue and Neo-Conservative humane higher education as the Victoria’s Secret online search engine. Then think of yourself in student-mode as the congressman and the range of required courses as the svelte cocktail party escort who not only brings her own pizza, but has her own USB port as well, and whose services you can order from a Mallhardt Mega Warehouse—at a steep discount because of high-volume sales—instead of from some pricey ‘secretarial agency’ in the District. In this analogy, the lady provost of a typical state college would be an Eighteenth-Century reciprocating steam pump and the chair of Women’s Studies would be the chassis of a Lima Works oil-fired freight-hauling locomotive. Try putting a push-up bra or a cheerleader’s outfit on one of those! Never mind about a whalebone corset. In an incentivized situation, the problem of the mismatched interface presents much less of a hindrance to the final coupling of the flash drive and the USB port, or the vacuum-cleaner attachment and the dust bunny, than in the old way of doing things. In a phrase, Neo-Conservative humane higher education is about amperage and suction; it’s about Wankel pumps and high positive displacement, especially if your grandmother is Deborah Jeane Palfrey.”
Senator Lott’s faction has its own ideas. Senatorial aide Larch Speke-Wrightly echoes his boss’s own words when he remarks that “Neo-Conservative humane higher education has to be more than just sitting in a lecture hall carving your girlfriend’s name into the desktop with an Exacto-Knife while the English professor drones on about how Truman Whaleville sailed around in a big peapod—or maybe it was some kind of pipsqueak—and how he continuously avoided the Spanish Frittata by searching for a Great Slight Male in some specific ocean or another. That was in The Scamperfairy Tales, right, or was it The Harlot’s Letter? I always get those two confused because they’re basically the same story. They were both later rewritten as Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, which made a lot more sense to me than the other two, particularly in the movie version. Anyway, apart from himself, Senator Lott has known many Great Slight Males, like his late colleague Strom Thurmond or his not-so-late one Orrin Hatch, and as far as large bodies of water go, anyone who’s been to the Pascagoula shore can tell you that one ocean looks pretty much like another when your kids bury you up to your neck in the sand and leave you there with the hermit crabs tickling your honker. So why get bollixed up about specifics? What I’m trying to say on behalf of the senator is, education needs to be practical, as well as ineffectual—or worse than that, pseudo-ineffectual. Man, I hate those guys! Most of them are… you know… a little bit limp in the handshake, like they pranced right out of Whaleville’s Homeo and Juliet—which I’m told can actually be found in junior high school libraries here in Mississippi—or maybe art school. The senator is looking into that. Our idea for Big Lott’s was that kids from a certifiable Country Club Republican background would be able to browse at leisure for four or five years, sampling a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but without the obligation of buying or remembering anything. They could have a slushy in the food court and maybe some extreme fajitas. Then they could go on to become lawyers.”
How, our interviewer wondered, does humane or liberal knowledge specifically contribute to the intellectual development of a Young Republican or other GOP-oriented congressional-aide hopeful? Speke-Wrightly said: “Oh you’re back to that ineffectual stuff, huh? Well, have it your way. As the senator sees it, everybody, even a lawyer, should possess a little bit of fancy knowledge apart from remembering Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s cell phone number without ever writing it down—and the littler the better. Every educated person should create a mental asylum or a sort of bird-sanctuary, so to speak, deep down in his brain with a few good books, like maybe The Dialogues of Pluto and Don Peyote, displayed prominently on the shelves and a few more, like Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Deborah Jeane Palfrey in Kindergarten, on a coffee table. And plenty of high-class booze in the liquor cabinet. In times of job-stress or big political decisions that you don’t really understand, you can sort of go on junket down there, kick back, and maybe pour a drop or two of Seagram’s into your Postum. Or Sanka, if that’s what you prefer. We Republicans call this place our ‘Inner Rick Santorum’. That guy’s so smart he’s almost ineffectual.”
Exactly what does Speke-Wrightly mean by practical? “Power-dressing falls right in the middle of the practical category, especially for women. We think coeds should take at least one semester to study hot wardrobe tips from Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter, with some historical fashion-references from Phyllis Schlafly, who owns the world’s largest collection of naughty whalebone corsets. If you’ve ever attended a meeting of the College Republicans, you’ve witnessed the results of this. For those who see themselves as future House members, senators, or presidential cabinet officers, learning the right cheers is probably the most important thing. ‘Bloomers’ is a good one, but all the congressmen need to be wearing the same color underwear for it to work right. Senator Lott is good at ‘Buckets’, where you extend your arms straight out from your shoulders like you were holding a bucket in each hand. If you’ve lobbied effectively, the special interests fill up those buckets with shekels really fast. Sometimes ‘Buckets’ is also called ‘The Milk Maid’ and sometimes ‘The Bissell Upright’. It depends on the overall amperage, and on what type of push-up bra the congressman is wearing, but since the Palfrey Scandal we try not to talk about that. Once Senator Lott organized Senators Warner, Lugar, Hatch, Hagel, and Specter into an ad hoc ‘Cradle Catch’. They snagged Senator Clinton by surprise in the Senate Cloak Room and tossed her straight up. She did a full twisting double with a pirouette and then pulled off a Yurchenko before they caught her on her way down. Fortunately, all seven senators were wearing the same color underwear. If Monica Lewinsky had been able to do that, she might be Senator from New York today instead of Hillary. Then there’s ‘The Cradle Snatch’. That has to do with middle-aged congressmen, with or without flash drives, and House or Senate interns, usually with USB ports—it also requires buying and gift-wrapping the Victoria’s Secret lingerie beforehand and it’s by no means confined to ineffectuals. ”
The Catalogue of Courses and Student Handbook, now a mere false prophecy of shattered dreams, offers some clues to what four years of undergraduate studies would have entailed at Mallhardt College or Big Lott’s. The Catalogue lists among elective English courses, “Modern Literature 250”, a sophomore-level offering with the following booklist: Capitalism the Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand, Embrace the Serpent by Marilyn Quayle, Therese and Isabelle by Violet Le Duc, Sisters by Lynne Cheney, Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, Monica Speaks by Monica Lewinsky, A Reference Guide to Media Bias by L. Brent Bozell III , You Can’t Be Too Careful by ex-Congressman Mark Foley, and How the Borg Gave Us Barack Obama or Sleeping with Seven of Nine by former U. S. Senate hopeful Jack Ryan, all in their audio compact disc editions, except for Therese and Isabelle and Starship Troopers, which the Catalogue lists as DVDs. According to the course description, “Neo-Conservative Semiotics tends to concentrate—not to say linger over—gratuitous erotic titillation, especially unmotivated sex-scenes involving one-time-only drunken dorm-room lesbianism between two really hot heterosexual chicks who are ‘merely experimenting in a healthy way while in college,’ just like in Girls Gone Wild! Students might visualize Marilyn Quayle with Ayn Rand or Lynne Cheney with Monica Lewinsky. It is strongly advised not to try to visualize Ayn Rand with Monica Lewinsky, as astrophysicists think this might result in something catastrophic on a psycho-galactic scale that could only be depicted effectively in literature by H. P. Lovecraft or Michel Houellebecq. Guest lecturers during the semester will include Hollywood actress Dina Meyers, who will discuss the Neo-Conservative significance of the coed shower-scene in Starship Troopers, Lynne Cheney, who will supervise two or three visualization exercises, and Jack Ryan, who will demonstrate how divorce can make you cry like Meryl Streep.”
Intellectual History is represented in a course called “Bipartisanship in the Caucus of Ideas”. According to the Catalogue, “While Neo-Conservative thinking is a step or two down from Platonic and Hegelian thinking, or even a step or two down from Abbott and Costello or the Smothers Brothers, it remains dialectic. Thus Neo-Conservatives define ‘sovereignty’ and ‘citizen’ in terms of their opposites; in doing so Neo-Conservatives thereby enable themselves to vote with their honorable Democrat Party colleagues to leave the southern border completely unsupervised, except when an illegal entry is detected and stopped by the migrant’s chance encounter with one of the scarce border patrol agents. Neo-Conservatives regard illegal residents as equivalent to citizens because ‘they do the work that Americans don’t want to do.’ Neo-Conservative congressmen, by distinction, do the work that Americans don’t want them to do; they do it anyway, relentlessly, and they blame Rush Limbaugh when public opinion reacts against them. The Neo-Conservative dialectic operates in this fashion: suppose the right thing Constitutionally is A but Ted Kennedy wants B; Neo-Conservative congressmen divide the issue into two phases, giving Kennedy half of what he wants in one session, while holding the other half back, and then giving him half of what he wants in the next session, while congratulating themselves on having gotten away with the third half. ‘We felt we could vote for this measure because our colleagues across the aisle have given us most of what we want.’ They then retreat to their ‘Inner Rick Santorum’ and screen the coed shower scene from Starship Troopers. Normally, people think of compromise as bad when it concerns fundamental, especially constitutional, issues. Neo-Conservatives solve this problem by training themselves not to think.” The books for this course cover the history of ideas from the Pre-Socratics, for which the text is Sean Hannity’s Favorite Country-Music Lyrics, to Eric Voegelin, for which the text is Arnold, by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
According to impartial commentary, Mallhardt College or Big Lott’s failed not because of squabbling but because of an obsession with “outsourcing”. The entrepreneurs of Neo-Conservative humane higher education in the United States discovered that almost all services, from dining to budgeting, could be done more cheaply over the Internet by people in China and India. “In fact,” says an accountant who consulted on the project, “they found that Chinese, Indian, and Eastern European students, especially from the ex-communist countries, are already doing the disciplined studying that American students no longer want to do.” In a moment of reconciliation, Dewey Pinwhistle and Larch Speke-Wrightly shook hands and agreed that bygones should be bygones. “After all,” said Pinwhistle nostalgically, ‘we’ll always have Pepperdine.”
(Thomas F. Bertonneau, Oswego, New York, filed this story.)