After reading Kate’s post yesterday, something started bubbling up from the dark recesses of my mind (and, oh, let me tell you, my mind has dark recesses) and that was how the word respect started being shoved down my throat at every turn about… twenty years ago or so.
Respect the professionals; respect the training, respect the uniform, respect the office, respect the teacher’s position; respect the degree; respect the authority, respect… respect… respect…
And to all this I have but one thing to answer: WHY?
It was part of the argument of the blog-invasion by Desperate Teen Brownshirts (an upcoming reality series) “You should respect our teacher because she’s a TEACHER.” They couldn’t explain to me why this was worthy of respect beyond how that teacher might do her job (or lack of respect beyond how that teacher might do her job.) Nor could they explain why I should “respect” whatever she did, just because she was in a position of authority over them. She was not in a position of authority over me and I will match my credentials with hers school room hour by school room hour and books read by books read – without even mentioning capacity for reasoning. (Like the little worm Heinlein talked about, who bragged of being a brontosaurus on his mother’s side, a teacher who sends half-formed adolescent to defend her from a largely imagined insult by being rude and crude in public might not have anything else to be proud of.)
My children, of course, as soon as they entered school, (and because they’re mine from the top of their little horns to their little hoofkins, which they don’t got) started telling me “you know, when a teacher comes in demanding respect, you know he/she will have nothing – neither knowledge nor ability, nor even a lively teaching style to justify it.” (This is different from a teacher who displays dignity. They rather like those – teachers with enough SELF-respect to demand silence in the classroom during class and to teach as though they know more than the students do. Their second least favorite teacher is “call me Joe. We’re all friends here. I’ll learn more from you than you’ll learn from me” idiot. Interestingly those are also often the ones that flip and start yelling “you have to respect me.”)
But it went beyond that. The very first cozy I wrote and submitted came back rejected because I had a funny policeman in it. “You can’t have that,” the rejection said. “The police are professionals. You can’t make fun of them.”
I thought this was very odd, having grown up on the Saint and even on Miss Marple and Poirot and … all the others. I thought “It’s this house. They’re insane.” And then I got books on how to write mysteries, and I found that the very FORM was being barred by decree from above. “Cozies are not real mysteries, and besides they’re unbelievable. How could an amateur be better than a trained professional?” This from houses that claim to publish fiction. At the same time, both written and TV mysteries tried to show policemen as near-infallible professionals who followed on clue upon clue.
Oh, yeah, the other thing, if you disagreed with “scientists” – like the clowns who have for thirty years pushed a lethal food pyramid down our throats – you were “anti-science” because the “scientists are professionals.” If you disagreed with your doctor, he’d ask you if you had an MD (and they don’t like being told “Well, no. But I’ve had this here body for almost half a century, and you haven’t.” And yet, it’s true.)
Suddenly the world was full of experts whose opinion was irrefutable because they were experts. Listen to the experts, kowtow to the governor. Kiss the baton.
The oldest civilizations known to men were all that way. Perhaps it is a way human civilizations go, when we’ve been civilized too long. Perhaps…
Or perhaps it was the result of an elite who knew they didn’t deserve their lofty positions and were trying to hold on with coordinated razzle dazzle, to change our culture, to make us into what we were not, so they might have power a little longer. I read somewhere it started with the student revolts in the sixties – that these happened at all the better colleges, and students changed the curriculum and learned near nothing, and then when they move into life all they wanted was respect, so no one questioned the deep dark pit beneath the pretty paper.
I know that I, myself, was taught by post-sixties standards. All the students who asked that things be thrown out as no longer relevant, like western classics, classic languages, long hours of formal training, extensive reading, modes of deportment, screwed my generation over. We never got a chance at saying “but we want to learn that.”
Heck, because the immediately previous generation, at least in Portugal, were often our teachers, sometimes we didn’t get the opportunity to learn anything. I spent an entire year of language arts painting a mural outside the middle school with my class. (Because it taught us revolutionary… oh, BALLS! Because the teacher was barely literate due to all the “classroom occupations” and “student demands.”)
Were all the people of the generation before mine that way? Oh, heck no. Virtue isn’t generational. But the bad apples did carry the day and make it bad for everyone. My brother’s classes had so many “student strikes” that one year he almost didn’t have classes.
The rest of us, who weren’t striking or acting like loons could react one of two ways. I’m not virtuous, either, but I am curious, and have an insatiable need to feed what Heinlein called The Elephant Child (in an allusion to Kipling.) Oh, yeah, and I like reading. So I set about to repair a lot of the omissions on my own. It worked, sort of. Or it is working. I have holes in my knowledge, and besides math is a devil to learn on your own. (However, for all the auto-didacts out there, Great Courses is the way to go.) A lot of people did that.
A lot of others didn’t. And going into the workforce – now two generations since the great burning of the mental tools of Western civilization – they were conscious that they could pretend, but the real knowledge wasn’t there. And then they started talking about “respect.”
This is a simplistic explanation, and it doesn’t cover everything. There’s also the growing power and scope of bureaucracy, and the desperate need anyone who even aspires to, much less has attained, a position of unwarranted power over other individuals, has – as a sort of reflex of their personality – to have you “respect” their ideas, their opinions, their very existence.
And then there’s those who, through luck, contacts, stealth, or the sheer fact that the people older than them thought they were ‘the future’ took over the commanding heights of art and mass communication and who, once secure, spent their entire time holding the political color line and keeping anything and anyone they disagreed with out. Oh, and promoting this weird idea of respect for the position and that you had to have credentials to do things which, until recently, you didn’t even have to have formal schooling to do.
They had to know some of the people they were keeping out could outthink them and outcreate their darlings five ways from Monday. So they created this idea that believing like they did was a sign of intelligence and therefore anyone who believed differently was dumb. Just another cry for R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
And once the virus of “respect” is in place, we’re asked to respect all sorts of absurd things: symbols, pieces of paper, positions.
Look, I’m not a sans-coulotte, even though at various times when I look at policies being implemented, I’ve been known to mutter that we need more lampposts with arms, so we can hang the aristos from them. I do respect some forms and some places – those that have a history worthy of respect. I respect our form of government which sucks, but sucks less than all the others. I respect the places where our history has been forged and the monuments that symbolize it. I even respect the constitution of the United States (a work birthed by geniuses who produced it while half-dead of heat stroke in a place with almost no human comforts) to the point of respect extending to the paper it was written in.
But I don’t venerate the paper above the content. And my respect for the oval office might or might not extend to the man in it – why should it? A lot of the men in it have not respected the office either as a charge or as a location.
I wonder how it would all have ended without the internet. (What a marvelous world this is, which has such electrons in it.) Badly, I suspect. Hell, it might still end badly. We’ve now raised what? Three generations? With this stupid idea of “respect for the position.”
But I don’t think so. I don’t think so, because the establishment is on the run and the aristos are trying to hide behind walls of “you must respect me.”
I first noticed how the internet discomfited my older colleagues, the vaunted lions of a generation that has yet to produce a world bestriding giant of Asimov’s stamp – let alone Heinlein’s – when one of them went into a spit-flecked rant about Amazon allowing “just anyone” to review books. After all what credentials did these “reviewers” have? Why should they be allowed to voice their opinion?
This was the first time I realized that not only were their amazing reviews in fact controlled by their publishers (yes, most of them WERE paid for) and the prizes they awarded each other hollow of any significance – but they KNEW it. Meanwhile I, back then, as a completely naive beginner writer, was thrilled every time I got a new review because it meant someone else had read my words, and I treasured the good ones, even the dopey ones that praised characters who weren’t actually in the novel. And, as a reader, I’d already found that those reviews, once you filtered out the obvious nuts (best exemplified by the buying of things other than books, at Amazon – you know, the review that says “this might be an okay coffee maker, but it doesn’t work at all as a steam shovel, so I’m giving it one star.”), were a much better guide of what I’d like to read than all the “expert” reviews in the world.
Now, of course, with indie publishing, the screaming has got deafening. “Why are they allowed to publish anything?” “Publishers are professionals.”
Other mavens of the establishment are going equally unhinged. The “scientists”, say, whose emails got leaked, and who proved to be far less worthy of respect than the con men of my childhood who deceived the farmers with shell games but who at least were willing to work at it and perfect their crooked trade. The “Journalists” whining that they can no longer change the national conversation – as though this had ever been part of their job description. The doctors who sue someone for describing – on his blog – how he lost weight (which incidentally is how my husband lost over 150 lbs and is keeping it off) because it doesn’t accord with their doctrine. The “businessmen” who apply to the government for subsidies because they’re too big to fail – after proving the only way they can run a business is into the ground.
All of them are screaming “RESPECT ME” at the top of their lungs. Which is all the proof you need to have that they don’t deserve that respect.
Unearned, office-associated “respect” is something given to priests and shamans, to guardians of a mystery religion. Respecting the “office” and the trappings of the office is a thing of ancient monarchy. It is not something that should even be talked about in a free society.
In a free society, we respect those who have earned our respect. To them I’ll give full measure of respect and brimming over. Take Ric Locke – he went from wanna be to colleague with one book. I have other friends and acquaintances who haven’t even had the success he had. But I’ve read their work, and they’re my colleagues. They earned it. They don’t have the position, but they already have my respect.
The others? The lords of empty pomp and circumstance, hiding behind their credentials? Don’t make me laugh.
Whether they’re petty teachers demanding pomp and circumstance from their classes, or heads f publishing houses trying to impose their taste and opinion on a tired public* – they don’t deserve and they don’t get my respect. For them I’ll paraphrase Marlowe: Heyla you pampered jades of the establishment! We’re coming to get you.
*No. Of course I DON’T mean Baen. Baen caters to the public. And has been called “lowbrow” for it. And the grace with which they laugh their way to the bank HAS earned my respect. (Grin.)