Saturday, August 19, 2017

School of Hate

13 Reasons and the dark side of high school.

Why all the hate? Hate has elected a president, and is his tireless message over the twitter-waves. Hate is loose in the Muslim world, in a campaign to instill fear in its enemies. We seem to be prone to it, and can be consumed by it, unawares.

I have been enjoying a Netflix series, thirteen reasons why, which incidentally was partly shot in my city. The titular reasons are ones for suicide, of the main character Hanna. And they are recounted by her in tapes being played after the fact, as the series progresses, by her best friend, Clay. Generally, the production is not very innovative, but the flashbacks and dream sequences are done with great care and style.

Its topic is how horrible high school is in America. Leaders of Britain may be formed on the playing fields of Eton, but American leaders are formed in the hallways and locker rooms of our public high schools. Which are not a pretty sight. The series is a very frank, if lavishly dramatized, look at how teens jockey for power and status, mostly by running down and terrorizing their schoolmates.

Most obvious are the jocks. Having bought into the official / corporate / archetypal system of status through athletics, they are children of privilege, loved by the administration, confident that even if they are not liked, they will be popular anyhow- that is just the way the social system works. They don't come off well in this show, giving in to every amoral whim from booze to bullying to social media meanness, thoughtless when they are not being mean.

From there, we go on to other dramatic dilemmas, of closeted gay students, stalking photographer, catty ex-girl friends, and so forth, salted by a variety of subplots among the adults, like the big-box "Walplex" taking over the town and the school administration covering its ass from Hanna's parents' lawsuit. Hanna was evidently failed, if not terrorized, by a fair proportion of the student body among others. I have not gotten to the end, but she will clearly have plenty of reasons when we get there.

Clay in class

But why is hate so easy? Is hate fun? Is it natural? Yes on both counts. Fascists know well that crowds and hate are a potent, even easy, combination. But it is also one of the most primitive, selfish, and useless emotions. Children hate quite easily, and have grievances that erupt into towering emotion. Growing up means putting a lid on them, so that we can work with all sorts of people, and work effectively without getting side-tracked by emotional baggage. We have created a emotional petri dish for teens by concentrating them in schools, with lots of leisure time, and little serious work. No wonder that the devil finds them such easy prey. Which is to say, their childish emotions, not quite under control or under moral direction. That we elected such an immature person as president speaks to a larger failure of our educational system- that it has failed to advance not just one, but far, far too many US citizens to an emotionally healthy and insightful adulthood.

All religious traditions have technologies of controlling hate, even if they then channel it to their own ends. Buddhists take the most uncompromising approach, decyring all such emotions as false, and engaging in lengthy love-inflected meditation to expunge such thinking. Yet Buddhists have had their wars and hate speach all the same- pacifists have a problem when faced with adversaries more willing to hate than to love. Christians have an ethic of love, yet hatred of Jews (how ironic!) flourished for centuries all the same. Muslims have the Sufi branch, their relatively pacifist brethren. But on the whole, Muslims have a simple and straighforward relation to hate- a deeply tribal approach where infidels are hated, and believers are loved. Except when they are of other sects, in which case they are hated anyhow. The Middle East is about to blow up again, along the Saudi Arabia - Iran axis of hate. So religions are a useful source of ideas and methods of human cultivation, but by no means the or a general answer to moral teaching.

Is it good that American school students go through an education in bullying, hate, and power politics? Most make it through OK, and many find highly positive environments where they find support and direction towards a happy adulthood. Does sobering, even terrorizing, interaction with the dark side build maturity, as it does in fairy tales and dreams? Perhaps so, but the costs are enormous, since many children do not make it out whole and unscathed. Simply put, children do not make a mature society when left to themselves. The under-adulted structure of public schools leaves quite a bit to be desired, in that it does not sufficiently occupy or guide young people.

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