Sather Gate Hallucination: Birgeneau at Berkeley
April 11, 2005

[After a long, busy winter I finally found myself with an entire weekend free from obligations so I flew out to California to visit the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. I'm not really sure why I wanted to see the place. Maybe it was because my favorite math professor, John L. Kelley, taught there. He had a TV show which I watched every morning when I was in eighth grade, back in 1961. Or maybe it was because of the poem Allen Ginsberg wrote about it in 1956 which I read when I was in high school. Or maybe I was drawn by it's reputation as a hotbed for revolutionary thinking. Seriously, the times might be right for another "revolution." Perhaps I hoped to draw some inspiration from visiting the place where the last one got started.

I had a great time wandering around, and finally I found myself standing in front of Sather Gate. Sitting by one of the posts was a young man who was either psychotic or stoned or possibly both. He had a small sheaf of papers in his hands. I approached him, but before I could say anything, he stood up and said, almost shaking with rage, "No! I will not submit to your authority!" Then he threw the papers at me and ran away.

I've lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan for many years and I've learned not to get overly upset by whack-jobs, but I was intrigued enough to pick up the papers and see if I could find a clue as to what was going on in the deranged person's mind. Most of the sheets were printouts of articles he'd apparently found on the web:

There were also a few hand written sheets, which I typed up and am posting here for your amusement.]

*

Robert J. Birgeneau, the new chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley, announced a new initiative at a recent meeting of the Press Club. "There are so many things we don't like about the world, we've decided to devote the full resources of UCB to a War Against Reality," he said, as the assembled reporters swooned in admiration. "War is popular these days. Reality isn't. This is something university big-shots can cash in on, big time.

"The first objective of our assault will be the expressed will of the voters of California. They presume, falsely, that the mere labeling of their so-called 'initiatives' with words like 'democracy' and phrases like 'government by the people' can mask the oppressive rigidity of their privileged, racist modes of thinking.

"That is a political reality only if we accept it as such, and we do not have to do that. At every fine university in America, there are committees of wise, scholarly people like me who have a breadth of knowledge and experience and insight and good connections that enable us to decide how the American people should think about complex issues they cannot grasp all on their own. We have an obligation to show leadership in areas where the general public may lag behind. That is the true meaning of the diverse democracy we are working so hard to achieve, that will ultimately replace the current political reality we are at war with.

"Our next target will be racial reality. Most of us who are old enough to recall the civil rights movement of the '60s can easily bring to mind reactionary arguments about black people wanting everything handed to them. They wanted all the success of white people, according to the reactionaries, but without gaining the knowledge and skills and without doing the work. But we who were open-minded and progressive easily countered such hateful claims: black people only wanted the same opportunities to succeed that white people had. They only wanted a fair chance to pursue the American Dream.

"Unfortunately, reality raised its ugly head. True, some black people are highly intelligent and very talented academically. But the proportion of the black population which is gifted like that is noticeably less than the proportion of the white population which is similarly gifted. Do we accept that reality? Do we remember the arguments we made back in the '60s? Hell, no!! I'll say that again: Hell frickin' no!! Equality is equality, and on that issue, we cannot compromise! No, never! If we have to screw a few talented white applicants who've worked their butts off during their high school years in order to get to a place like this, who cares? I don't! I'm interested in the fate of exactly one talented white person, and that's me!"

The reporters and guest administrators broke out into unrestrained applause. "Three cheers for the humanitarian!" cried a secretary to one of the assistant vice-provosts, and the crowd, in a rare singularity of consciousness, answered the exhortation, "Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!"

Birgeneau smiled and continued, "Finally, we must wage war against human reality. Humans, like some other animals, tend to form lifelong male-female pairs. These pairs are the fundamental units of most human societies, advanced as well as primitive. This bonding provides a context in which helpless human infants can be cared for and nourished and protected until they are able to handle their own basic needs. Human life is also, as we might say these days, information-intensive. These so-called 'families' have evolved into mechanisms for the transmission of knowledge about things like hunting, cooking, farming and other human skills.

"Why, then, you might ask, should we be at war with that human reality?" Birgeneau paused and looked out at the audience. He could see the smirks and hear the simpering. They knew what he was about to say. It was "inside baseball" -- an arcane technical detail that would only bore the public, but, meanwhile, it was fun, it was cool, to actually be on the inside, to understand the joke, to bask in the warmth of inclusiveness.

"Because," Birgeneau continued, "that reality happens to be politically inconvenient!"

The audience broke out into loud laughter. Reporters and administrators high-fived each other and slapped each other on the back.

"What are we going to do when our butt-boys get the clap? They need medical care, and society must pay for it! And when things go bad, society -- yes, society! -- must soothe our broken hearts and reconstruct our prolapsed rectums!

"The truly interesting question is, how can we wage the war on this front? Essentially, we redefine 'marriage' as something utterly trivial. We turn it into an abstraction. That makes us all sound real intellectual. We will say it is simply an institution that allows society to cherish and sodomize, oops, I mean solemnize, long-term, committed loving relationships between two people, whether of the same or the opposite sex. In other words, it is about as significant as getting pinned at a frat party, if anyone still knows what that means. Now, exactly why anyone should care about anyone else's 'long-term, committed loving relationships' is a question that won't occur to too many people. Hell, even dogs can have 'long-term, committed loving relationships,' at least in movies. Why don't we give marriage certificates to dogs?

"I mean, what I'm saying here, is that it is amazing what we can get away with just by twisting a few words around. People think we are intellectuals! Right, and so are the friendly folks down at Bungalow Instant Mortgage Company! Cash in on your equity!

"That's what we're doing. We're cashing in on the equity of Western Civilization! How else could we afford to be so nicey-poo all the time about this 'diversity' stuff? You might think we are a bunch of stupid, meddlesome people convinced that it is our mission on earth to manipulate the deep realities of other people's lives. That isn't true! We're just smart enough to know that everything is going to hell and no one can stop it. We just plan on having a fun ride on the way down. Thus, our war on reality, and our battle cry: join our noble cause before our noble cause joins you!

"Thank you!"

 
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