Higher Education IS Privilege

I was listening to a podcast the other day, and one of the hosts is a woman working toward a PhD in women’s studies. She’s a white woman, though that really doesn’t matter. If you have a collegegradPhD it doesn’t matter if you are white, black, brown, yellow, green, or orange (though if you are orange you might want to get your liver checked). I would also guess she is around thirty-something years old.

Anyway, I was listening to this podcast and the subject of women working in the sex industry came up. With all the zeal of a DKS*, this woman proclaimed that this was bad, bad, bad, always bad and always destructive. The other hosts raised the issue of women who had reported working in the sex industry to pay their tuition at college or because it was the only job they could find to feed their children. Almost predictably, this woman responded that no, no, no; bad, bad, bad, this was a terribly destructive thing. Then it hit me. She doesn’t have the first clue about how privileged she is!

queen-red-dress-sitting-throne-symbol-power-queen-red-dress-sitting-throne-symbol-power-wealth-146335691If you are lucky enough to be skating through college and graduate school in one continuous period of immersion in the academy, good for you. You should recognize that you have had a series of advantages that most people don’t have, including but not limited to financial advantages, class advantages, support of family and friends along your educational path, personal wealth or access to financial aid to pay for your education, and a host of others. You likely don’t know the first thing about worrying where your next meal is coming from, finding a job that will cover your housing expenses, or trying to find a way to feed and care for a child or children as a single parent. You are clueless. Worse yet, you are clueless that you are clueless.

You may ask, “how can she be clueless, she is educated?” The truth is that the academy is full of professors who have never set foot in a working class neighborhood, much less an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. Even if they have studied the lives of the average person, the odds are very good that they have not lived that life. They think that economic distress is having to eat Ramen noodles during college, but in truth there was never any danger of them not having a roof over their heads and they could always call home for a quick $100 to tide them over.

Before we pass judgment on what people do to survive, we should be very sure we understand the challenges they are facing. We should get off our thrones and talk to people who have had these experiences. We should recognize how lucky we are to not have been faced with similar challenges and choices, and we should refrain from offering our “wisdom” until we have lived a bit.

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*DKS is a term I coined for new graduates from seminary – and higher education in general. These folks tend to think they know everything, but in reality their knowledge is only theoretical and hasn’t been tested in the waters of reality. Therefore, they Don’t Know Shit. 

Who Are We to Be?

I confess that, watching the political discourse over the last few years I have become increasingly discouraged. I have watched American politics, not as an obsession but as a citizen interested in public discourse, since the late Johnson administration. To my more smart assed younger friends, I should specify that I mean the Lyndon, and not the Andrew Johnson administration. What I have noticed, at every level and in every party, is a loss of any sense of value or integrity. People just seem to feel fine about dishing bald faced lies to the American public if doing so advances their cause, career, or (more likely) lines their pockets.

If we are honest, these are the kind of people we wouldn’t want to invite into our homes for dinner for fear they would steal the silverware. Like a drug addicted child, we would have to exert so much energy monitoring their behavior while they were visiting that we couldn’t possibly enjoy the visit. If we are honest, we don’t have to stretch our imagination too much to imagine a current politician or one of their employees searching through our bank records while ostensibly on a trip to the bathroom.

As someone who has spent the vast majority of his adult like studying and working in the fields of spirituality, religion, and psychology, it is clear to me that a significant segment of our population has come worship power and money above all else. Values such as integrity, truth, loyalty, and dependability take a back seat in these belief systems. Perhaps even more telling is the truth that the worship of power and money arise in a person who is profoundly fearful and lacks a way to understand and process that fear. They become a starving man in front of a tray of food, who takes it and eats it without regard because he knows he must do so to survive – except that most of these people have more than enough to survive. Their starvation is a starvation of soul, and the result is an ego run amok. The result of their strategy is a life chasing something they will never catch.

I don’t care if you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Moslem, or a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You might be a Jungian, a Freudian, or a follower of Fritz Perls. Maybe Elkhart Tolle helps you make sense of your world, and Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday makes all right in your world. Whatever it is, the human psyche needs a way to make sense of its world and to find in it something bigger than itself. It doesn’t need to be complicated. The Dalai Lama reminds us the his religion is kindness. Each of us must find a way to care about something other than ourselves at least some of the time. If we can’t do that, we are likely to find ourselves trying to lie, cheat, and steal our way to happiness – and pondering a run for political office.

Much ado about nothing

The truth is that the divisions we create between Spiritual and political perspectives are most often a way to pump up our own egos and little more. We imagine there is some qualitative difference between a Buddhist and a Christian and theologians on both sides make a very tidy living perpetuating that misperception, but mystics on both sides agree that our commonalities far outnumber our differences. The same could be easily said of republicans and democrats.

If we look closely we will see that underneath every assertion that I am right and you are wrong lies the unspoken belief that I am better than you. That [erroneous] belief is the product of an insecure mind driven by an out of control ego. In truth we are not better and worse, just diverse, and that is really quite lovely – hardly something we should be trying to eliminate!