Fosters Night By Paul deParrie

Chapter 5

           I caught my bus to town on a bright Saturday afternoon. It was depressing to waste such a rare Seattle day sitting inside at a group therapy session. I had been going for about six months. Immediately after my "fifth floor" experience, I picked up several popular books on psychology to see what I was in for. They had not changed much since the Me Decade of the 1970s. It was pretty much the same old self-centered tripe -- with a few changes in lingo.

           Readjusting my mental state to coincide with the therapeutic gestalt was not difficult, though I found the touchy-feely hugging a stretch to accommodate. One needed to make sure that "breakthroughs" were not immediate or too complete. You had to make sure that the group was allowed to analyze you and dissect your psyche so that your help was a result of their efforts. Otherwise they felt cheated and would accuse you of "blocking" or "denial" or "insensitivity" -- three of the capital crimes of a psychiatric society. You had to allow them to point out your errors, deny them briefly (often for several sessions if the error was serious enough), and finally submit to the insight of the group. It was clear from crime statistics and recidivism rates that this is what crafty criminals had been doing for decades. I had become a modern criminal -- robbed of self-esteem or bearing weighty inner rage -- and I adopted modern criminal methods.

           Unfortunately there was a major difference between me and other criminals. Others generally worked in small auto shops, power-up stations for cars, restaurants, metal fabrication shops, and the like. There was no "fifth floor" to monitor their daily attitudes in these small enterprises. These other patients could revert to their true feelings when outside therapy.

           I, on the other hand, knew that my every story, my daily demeanor, my casual conversation at lunch, even the joke I did or didn't laugh at in the office was being scrutinized. Keeping my guard up most of the day was the difficult part. It was emotionally exhausting.I wondered how long this examination would continue.

           At first I deluded myself into thinking that once my stint at group therapy ended, I would be able to relax. But while riding this bus on this particular beautiful day I realized that it was not so.

           No, I wouldn't sit in the sour-smelling little room across from Charles the sex-offender with his babyish face forever. I would not be treated to the weekly vision of the pretty Desiree who was so high-strung that she was unable to cope with her own seven-year-old son's harangue about her smoking -- a major preoccupation of his which he picked up in Health class in school. Her therapy was ordered as a result of his telling his teacher that she became angry at him when he pointed out the dangers of smoking.

Smoking tobacco, a relatively rare habit in these days due to the exorbitant taxes and to UniMed, the universal medical coverage. If you smoked -- or even chewed -- tobacco, certain kinds of treatment were denied to you and everyone had UniMed except congressmen and selected other federal officials. Seeking treatment outside the UniMed plan was a federal offense -- even if you had the money. While heroin addicts got clean needles, government grade drugs, and full medical coverage because of their addictive illness, tobacco users were deprived of help. The stress on tobacco addicts was enormous -- thus, Desiree's presence in therapy.

           Nor would I need face the insipid "Mr. Therapy" -- whose name was Alan -- and whose repertoire of neuroses expanded each week with the release of the new issue of Mental Health magazine and its proclamations of the latest thing in diseases of the mind.

           All of this was temporary, I realized, but because of my exposed position -- my ability to write and disseminate ideas -- I would never be free of surveillance. Trask would never let go. What Trask had feared was not so much the ideas that I might acquire from my forays into ancient literature, but that those ideas might bleed into my writing and thus alter the carefully constructed robo-thought of acceptable ideas.

           The bus squealed to a halt at my stop in front of the three-story, glassed-in structure where the sessions were held. I glanced at my watch and noticed I was early. Already, "Mr. Therapy" was at the door anxiously awaiting the arrival of Martin, the group's facilitator, and Ridley, the professional monitor. I turned and headed up the street to a bookstore to browse away this small freedom of time. The shelves were choked with self-help, self-analysis, self-self books. I had never noted their preponderance until now. I knew I had to plan some kind of escape from this ever-tightening therapeutic noose.

           In the past, I had loved this bookstore. But now I saw that the shallow selection merely had the patina of depth. My eyes landed on a cover that stated, Weird Beliefs and Curious Cults of Modern America. The author was a well-known anthropologist who had done little in the actual science but was in high demand as a popularizer of scientific ideas. He was much like Carl Sagan had been in an earlier time. His voice and the letters behind his name were designed to lend credibility to his pronouncements -- pronouncements that were made on subjects utterly out of his field.

           I picked up the tome and thumbed through its pages. Here, the author took on the level tone of a scientist examining the facts. Beneath was the condescension of an adult to a small child or a technological man to a country hick. Much of what were called Weird Beliefs was material straight out of church catechisms or biblical commentaries -- virgin birth, resurrection, biblical inspiration, and many more. Among the Curious Cults were groups who still awaited the second coming of Christ and small knots of people who were becoming self-sufficient and isolating themselves from civilization in various ways. It was these latter that caught my attention.

My options were few. I could live out my life as a bug in a glass jar or I could escape. As a fugitive, I could get false papers (as I would be traced by my own medical card -- if nothing else) and begin working as . . . as what? I was 60-years-old then and not exactly in shape to take on anything manual. Or I could escape altogether from the society.

           I thought I could park myself on a spur that was hidden from the main track of life -- thus my interest in these self-sufficiency groups was piqued. I needed to know more, but I needed to find out clandestinely. The biggest concern was to secure a new identity. In an earlier time, disappearance would be much more simple.

           When I was young, Americans still were repulsed by the idea of a national identity card. That fear almost sunk President Roosevelt's carefully constructed Social Security system. It was only the guarantee in law that the Social Security number would not be used for identification purposes, that allayed that fear -- a promise later reneged. Americans also resisted other attempts at national ID, harking back to old memories of Europe where the police could -- without cause -- "demand your papers."

           The UniMed card rode in on the much-vaunted health care crisis without much thought being given to the fact that it required a national identification card encoded with personal information. Now UniMed cards carried a criminal history as well as medical history. In the early part of the decade, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Brown v Texas and allowed law enforcement officers to demand UniMed identification without probable cause.

           Another look at my watch told me that I was nearly late for the session. I hurried out of the store to the quizzical look of the girl at the cash register.

           A new person was being introduced to our group on that day. Jason was a rail of a man with a preposterously hooked beak for a nose. His watery, small eyes seemed to be buried in his narrow head. He was a college-educated man in his early 30s but he had no sense of language and he found both verbal and written communication difficult. His reasons for being in therapy were yet to be discovered, but his difficulty in communications was a common malady. In college, he had been an English major.

Breeding Illiteracy
           What poverty of education people must have had in the past -- no computers, no Dick-and-Jane sight-readers, no "reading labs," no Reading Is Fundamental programs, no Head Start, no National Education Association, no task-forces to find out "Why Johnny can't read" -- they must have lived in trying times.
           And in trying times they lived. One example was the Civil War. Historians have mountains of things from then -- generally letters -- written by everyone from slaves to privates to generals. One Private Alexander Hunter wrote describing a Civil war hospital:
"At night my ward became like the dim caverns of the catacombs, where instead of the dead in their final rest, there were wasted figures burning with fever, and raving from the agony of splintered bones, tossing from side to side with every ill, it seemed, that human flesh is heir to. From the rafters the flickering oil lamp swung mournfully, casting a ghastly light."16
           Nor was such descriptive prose the exception. The columnist who used the above quote noted that "the beautiful speeches of Abraham Lincoln may seem miraculous today but a nation that produced so many Private Hunters could surely produce one Lincoln."
           In truth, the cogent eloquence of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address would be regarded as effete and pompous today. This judgment would be made by men who while in college wrote such masterpieces as, "In are times the responcible writers must read the hand writeing on the wall so he can asses the human conditions."17
           Another columnist, having commented on an unflattering survey of teens' level of general knowledge received a packet of high school students' letters sent by the teacher . The columnist had suggested a mandatory draft as a way to expand the horizons of the youngsters.
           One young woman unknowingly predicted the sour future in which we now live when she wrote, "This lidiot (referring to the columnist) is probly 70 years old. If we are all brain dead you beder live with it we are the future."
           Another attempted to capture the entirety of his philosophy in one paragraph. He wrote, "We should get our own choice what we want to do in our lifetime if he wants everyone to do what he wants why dont he just run for president. We like certain music compared to that classic stuff they listen to and they want all of us to get drafted for a service that we might not enjoy at all yes you might make good money from it but it won't last forever yes life was tough 50 years ago and it still is tough now so who does he think he us telling us what we should do with our lives we have a choice and his just mad because we aint went throu it jet and some teeneragers dont want to go through it so I really wouldnt mind if I went through tell you one thing that it would change ones life a lot when it is over you probly would have a lot of nightmares."18
           And besides the language errors of this last example, there was an evident shift in emphasis from earlier work.
           The Civil War writers -- including Private Hunter -- had an entirely different focus. They looked at and described the world around them and its people.
The young of our time describe only self.

16 A letter quoted on a Public Broadcasting special, The Civil War, in September 1990 which was printed in an October 3, 1990 column by Mona Charen

17 Editorial by Don Feder, Are schuls don't edycate too good theze daze, Orange County Register, February 21, 1990, quoting from The Irrelevant English Teacher, J. Mitchell Morse, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1972

18 Mike Royko, In Their Own Words: Teens Criticize Survey, Oregonian December 1, 1989

           When our new man arrived, the group, like gossip-hungry columnists, descended upon his psyche. It was easier to draw blood on the new and uninitiated Jason. This took much of the heat off me for a while because I was now not the freshest meat in the circle. I did, however, come under fire when I did not join the rest in the orgy of "treatment" they were showering on the hapless Jason. The suggestion -- and it was really more than suggestion -- was that I was "uncaring" about our newest member because I was not participating in the slice-and-dice of Jason's emotional life. I could see that I would lose ground quickly if I did not make a cut or two myself so I joined the chorus of general harangue -- "C'mon, Jason, you're blocking again! Open up and be transparent!"

           What had started as an easy session became a drain. I sensed a part of me that actually enjoyed drawing emotional blood and that worried me. I realized that I had to find an "out" soon; either that or find some way to harness that lower nature that had taken pleasure in Jason's pitiful helplessness. When I left, I wandered around downtown until I reached an old section destined for urban renewal. The area had once been a thriving business center of a large, old neighborhood but was now being swallowed up by the spread of the city center. The one- and two-story brick edifices testified to an earlier, more pedestrian time. Walking down what used to be the main street, I looked down a side street and spotted a old, peeling sign. Unlike most signs, it was wood and the legend was painted rather than formed plastic.

           The words were faded but still proclaimed, Antiques & Collectibles. No other identification was made.I felt drawn to look inside so I stepped to the door which held an "Open" sign and rang a bell as it was opened.

           It was dark inside but not from absence of light. Everything could be seen clearly but the dark was like that of aging wood -- a natural result of time -- and everything in the shop was aging. The antiquity of everything around me vibrated with a life that did not exist in my normal surroundings. Collecting and displaying antiques had not been in vogue for many years and it was hard to imagine a business in their sale surviving at all. The floor lamps cast dim light into corners of the room where filled bookshelves stood waiting for scholars. Hand-crafted, overstuffed chairs sat side-by-side and leafed tables bore piles of oddities. A glassed-in case contained old watches, rings, scrimshaw, pendants, and other smaller items.

           I was shocked to see a man of tender years behind the counter. I put his age at 15 or 16. He was a rangy youth with a shock of straight, black hair falling across his right eye as he leaned forward to rearrange the offerings in the glass case.

           "Is there anything I can help you with, sir?" he asked with a smile.

           "No. Just looking," I replied noncommittally but secretly surprised at being called "sir."

           It was not a common affectation, though it was a habit of mine from a very manners-conscious mother.

           "Well, if you have any questions, just call, sir. I'll be around here somewhere."

           At first I looked without seeing. My mind was still caught up with the young man behind the counter. I had fully expected such a place to be manned by someone older than myself and my mind was having a difficult time negotiating the turn. What brought me back to reality was when my eyes crossed the word "confessions" in a book title.

           It was Confessions of Augustine and the whole of my detoured life of the last six months seemed to have hinged on that title. I had long since quit using the library for anything except research for work. I was certain Trask would continue to monitor my withdrawals so I occasionally checked out popular self-help titles and light fiction -- most of which I never read. Here, before my eyes, were copies of some of the "elitist" books I had read.

           Loose copies of such works were rarely seen -- all were either in libraries or were moldering away in some basement. Very few people kept books anymore. Many would read books on-line on their computers. Even the paperbacks now were of new, bio-degradable papers. It was more than the fact that they were simply made from recyclable materials, they actually returned to natural materials within two years. Real books such as these were only published for law books or records of some kind. Most book issues included a "library edition" which was more lasting, but they were not widely available to the public.

           I moved from room to room among the tables, chairs, lamps, and other things, but everywhere were books. I carefully pulled down one after another to examine them as though they were living things. There was something that exuded from the pages of Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton that commanded such respect.

           At last I came upon the young man again. He was seated on one of the old chairs with his feet upon a stool and an open book in his hands. I could make out Flavius Josephus dimly embossed on the cover.

           "He looked up with 'May I help you?'" in his eyes.

           "What kind of book is that?" I asked pointing to the volume in his hand.

           "Oh, this? History. Josephus was a first century Jewish historian who wrote for the Romans," he replied.

           "And you find that . . . interesting?" I asked incredulously.

           "Yes, sir! I really like history. My dad, the owner of this shop -- he is out on a buying run -- he gets me a lot of good history books. Of course, that is on condition that I read other books that he assigns me that I don't enjoy as much."

           "For instance?"

           "Well, the more poetic material is hard for me to get through. Shakespeare, and the like. He says that I need to be familiar with good usage of language if I am ever to have good usage of thought. I couldn't understand what he meant by that for quite a while but now I'm beginning to understand it. I still have a tough time with that kind of material but I can see that it is hard to think clearly unless you can clearly use language -- and even if the thinking was there without it, how would you express it to others without a good command of language. I mean, some of what these writers say could not be said so clearly and succinctly without developing disciplined forms of expression."

           I was taken aback. Perhaps I had misjudged this young man's age, yet my earlier encounter in group therapy with Jason and my experience with many college graduates told me that there was a difference in the way these were educated.

Government Schools and Propaganda
"Like Shakespeare is irrelevant," one of J. Mitchell Morse's college students told him, because like you know like he says like 'thee' and 'thou.'"
           Morse bemoaned the literary pit into which the West -- particularly the U.S. -- had fallen. He blamed the successes of conservative ideology on the distraction of education from its goal of spreading ideas through the precision of language.
           He was half right.While conservatives generally held sway over economic issues, liberals had equal power over social concerns -- both seemed satisfied that lowered learning would advance their causes. Conservative censorship took the blunt form of wanting the classics taught -- but only the ideologically correct classics. From the Left, censorship aimed at the heart of language itself. Not only did liberal ideology label the classics as "elitist" and "arbitrary" but they insisted that "Black English" or Ebonics -- in which very little in the way of liberating ideas could be expressed -- be accepted as legitimate language for all courses (theme papers, theses, and dissertations) except advanced language courses. He gave an eloquent rebuttal to the theory that requiring Standard English is an evil, white-man's plot for supremacy.
           Morse correctly identified this threat from the Left but incorrectly presumed that it would only benefit the Right. In actuality, all political powers -- Left and Right -- enjoy the benefits of an illiterate public operating purely on its glands. Each uses emotions to send the juices flowing unthinkingly into the bodies needed to perform their desired tasks. Patriotism or rebellion can be switched on with a slogan. Self-serving governments have a vested interest in poor education -- not to say, no education -- but limited education. It is to their advantage to have a citizenry that can read -- slightly -- and that can think -- slightly. This is so they can aim their ideological messages just below the level of conclusions and allow the public to "think" their way to the only possible conclusion. Of course the disadvantage to this is that the ideological opponent can use the same trick if he can find a way to access mass-information outlets.
           This is precisely what happened in the 1960s and onwards. The Left began to gain strongholds in the major media and began sapping the public with its anti-government message.19
In the illiterate public mind, there was confusion for a while but soon the tide turned. The Government had become so dependent on the media to trumpet its message that they were eventually unable to sound it on their own. Even the public schools, once the bastions of conservative government propaganda, succumbed to the drum-beating of the Left. Thus the Left was more effective in their use of illiteracy to gain the corridors of power.

19 In the 1980s, a massive study was done of media people -- from executives to reporters -- which found that they were significantly more liberal than the general public. Often they held statistically opposite percentages from the general public on important social issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and crime. An Los Angeles Times four-day series by David Shaw (July 1-4, 1990), based on an 18 month study by Shaw and an associate, reported a categorical bias in abortion related issues reporting to the pro-abortion side.

           The boy looked down and began to read again. I looked at some more books and left. But I made a mental note of the store's location.

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