Friday, August 26, 2016

My life as an outsider

Being an outsider is much decried these days.  That everybody should be "included" in everything is the hot gospel of the modern-day Left.  Men are not to be included in women's "safe spaces" and conservatives are not to be included in university debates, but let that ride.

So let me put forward the outlandish proposition that one can be quite happy as an outsider.  If you are of an envious disposition it might not be possible but there are a lot of folks of a contented disposition and they have it made. They don't get burned up by much at all.  I am one of them.

I was in fact an outsider from the time when I was a child until the day I retired.  At school I had absolutely no interest in any sport or game.  Doing the crossword was as near as I came to that and I did not do that often.  But I was born and bred in a small Australian country town where the entire social life revolved around sport.  So I was as complete an outsider as I could possibly be there.  I was on a few occasions abused over it and called a poofter [homosexual] etc.  The fact that I have now been married four times probably gives the lie to that last accusation.

But it was all water off a duck's back to me.  I read books, initially kids books of English origin.  So mentally, I lived a lot of the time as a prewar English schoolboy.  It was vastly different from the world about me but that just made it more interesting.  The English schoolboy had few fears about nature, nettles mainly.  Whereas in my tropical environment I had to know about crocodiles and sharks that might eat you, pretty fruit which could send you blind if you ate it, jellyfish that could sting you to death and a great range of highly poisonous snakes and spiders.  You could die within half an hour of being bitten by some of them.  So, odd as it might seem, I had a happy childhood and never got bitten by anything other than mosquitoes. I lived in the world of the mind.

I didn't actually learn to read until I was 7.  Kindergarten and pre-school were rarities in that time and place -- and childminding was generally informal. My parents were also great readers but saw no need to prepare me in any way for school.  They had no ambitions for me where school might be important.  So I was fascinated when I got my first ABC book at age 6 and remember it vividly to this day.

But I caught on rapidly and was reading well from our reading book by the end of the year.  One tale I have told before, but which still amuses me, was when the class was doing chain reading.  One kid would read one sentence, the next kid would read the next sentence and so on.  We got pretty good at it.  So eventually the teacher asked us to close our books and read the same sentences again.  Everyone could.  I was the only one who could not.  I was the only kid who had been reading.  The other kids just memorized it.  Young memories are very good.  I initially got a few scornful looks from the other kids but that turned to amazement when the teacher praised me.

I think it was from that point on that my exclusion started. The other kids could see that I was different from them and mostly avoided me from then on.   And the blue boy story reinforced that. But there were a couple of kids who did talk to me.

One rather important thing that I had in common with the English boys that I read about was an Eton education.  I did not in fact attend that illustrious institution in Berkshire but I had much the same curriculum at my school.  Politicians of the day wanted "the best" for their children and English Public Schools were indisputably the best at that time.  So little working class kids in country towns had to learn their Latin declensions and read poems about daffodils, skylarks, nightingales etc. And I did.  Though in my environment, instead of the "blithe spirit" of the skylark, we had the "demonic laugh" of the Kookaburra. I was even introduced to Chaucer and Homer, which pleases me to this day.

For most of the students exposed to such "irrelevant" arcana, it went in one ear and out the other -- but I remembered it all. So I didn't have the pressures that the kids at Eton underwent but I could have passed any of their exams as easily as they could. So I in fact had good opportunities before me and I took them.

And when I got to university, I was also an outsider, though for different reasons.  Being a contented soul, I have always been a conservative.  Being contented is a pretty good definition of being conservative.  But universities are of course a hotbed of Leftism.  Lots of people there think the world about them is all wrong and they know how to fix it.

I had however done some very wide reading in my teens -- Aeschuylus, Sophocles, Plato, Herodotus, Augustine of Hippo, Thucydides, Descartes, Aquinas etc -- and was already aware of the Leibnitzian doctrine that we may live in the best of all possible worlds.  The point of the doctrine is that some bad things may be an inevitable outcome of good things and that one might therefore destroy good things while trying to destroy bad things.  The long history of Leftist "solutions" to problems having "unexpected" and destructive "side effects" certainly validates the Leibnitz doctrine.

So I was skeptical of the intellectual miasma of Leftism from the day I set foot in a university. And it showed. In response to some Leftist assertion, I would say: "But what about....".  And there is nothing a Leftist hates more than debate.  To challenge his beliefs is to attack his person.  But I was not discouraged.  I was quite active in student politics, disrupting the cosy  consensus wherever I could -- and having a lot of fun in the process.  I did have some friends, mostly from Catholic DLP families, but I was otherwise as excluded as could  be.  I did however join one of the part-time army units hosted by the University of Qld, and that delivered a degree of fellowship.

When I was doing my Ph.D. at Macquarie university, I kept a fairly low political profile.  I made no secret of my conservative thoughts but tended to present them in a humorous and self-deprecatory way so that it didn't put people offside.  So I had a pretty normal social life for those two years.

So when I applied for a job teaching sociology at the University of NSW, enquiries were made at Macquarie and nobody mentioned  my politics. So I got the job -- appointed WITH TENURE. So they couldn't fire me.  The Sociology school was a hotbed of Marxism so it very rapidly came up that I saw old Karl as nothing more than an obsolete economist.  Everybody was rather staggered but they were in fact pretty nice to me.  I was certainly not included in a lot of things but I did get invited to some of their parties.  They were generally pretty decent people. They were like theological students, actually.  They read and studied  their Marxist writings as avidly as fundamentalist Protestant Christians read and study their Bibles.

So am I included now?  I am, in a sort of a way.  I mostly socialize with family and old friends these days.  And my brother, my son, my stepson and the lady in my life all have conservative views similar to mine.  If, on some social occasion, I attribute some bad weather event to "global warming", everybody  laughs. So at age 72 I look back on a very happy life of exclusion.  Anyone can do it.  You just adjust to it.

I must concede however that I was in a much better position to be an outsider than most.  Two things I inherited from my very independent mother were a clear help:  I was born with great self-confidence and a low social need.  Because I was very self-confident, the disapproval of most people I came into contact with me did not dent me a bit:  Duck's back stuff.

And my low social need meant that as long as there was someone in the world who thought well of me, I felt no distress that many people did not think well of me.  So I am happily a great skeptic:  I don't believe in Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Karl Marx or the evils of dietary fat, salt and sugar. I actually doubt  that there is such a thing as "healthy" food. Can you get more skeptical than that?

FOOTNOTES: "Demonic laughter" is the way early English invaders settlers described the cry of the Kookaburra, a large Kingfisher. Most Australians these days are pleased to hear their cry, however.  DLP stands for the Democratic Labor Party, a Catholic conservative party, now almost extinct but influential in the '60s.

1 comment:

Wireless.Phil said...

I'm sort of the same way.
Never been to any sport games, never watch at home and only watch when at the bar because you can't get away from it, sports bars are a big deal in the USA.

As a preteen, I spent most of my time playing in the woods, walking on the river bank from my town to the next town, a 5 mile trip by car.
No path there, just the edge of the woods.

Wandering the beach alone and wondering what is around the next outcrop of trees and rocks. Sometimes you find interesting things that fell overboard and washed up on shore.


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