Friday, August 15, 2008
  Salute to Lysle Mason

[Branching from Polistra's Dream part 6. This was written first as a footnote, later split off as separate entry.]

The notion that civilization requires a certain degree of strictness is relatively undiscussed today. American commentators on both sides insist on touting Freedom, which is a delusion. It ain't Freedom that gives us civilization, and the main benefit of civilization is not Freedom.

I learned this by example from Professor Lysle Mason at Phillips in 1978, though he wasn't really trying to teach it. He was only trying to teach math courses like Diff Eq and Theory of Ring Algebras.

In '78, the anything-goes wildness of hippie times had developed (as per Lenin's plan) into a hard-line dialectic. The Alinsky rules for dialog were fully imposed in most college classes, as follows: Professors must allow free speech so that leftists can cuss down and shout down any opposition to leftist causes. The Alinsky rules are universal today. Watch any cable TV "discussion" program for instruction in the method.

I didn't understand this connection at the time. I just assumed that freedom worked this way. Didn't notice that it allowed only one idea to be voiced.

Prof Mason did things differently. In a year when most professors tried to look and act like Elvis, Mason looked and acted like a 19th-century German professor, with rimless glasses, short hair and three-piece suits. If ten-piece suits were available, Mason would have worn ten-piece suits. He required a similar level of decorum from his students. Males must wear coat and tie, females must wear dresses. (Not miniskirts, needless to say.) He called everyone by title: Mr, Miss, Mrs as appropriate, and required good grammar and relatively formal speech in discussions.

Well, what happened? Was discussion totally squashed by this unspeakably Victorian "tyranny"? Not at all. Ideas bloomed.

Admittedly the range of relevant ideas in Diff Eq is rather limited, but the effect was still visible. You could ask how this equation would be used by a painter, or ask why Leibniz and Newton were in competition. And the question could be discussed fully, without any interruptions by Leftist cussing; all sides could be aired without any shouts of HOW DARE YOU or McCARTHYISM or RACISM or SEXISM. In other classes, and in discussions out of class, you knew for sure that your thoughts and musings would be interrupted and chopped off by one of those key phrases.

I gradually noticed the difference. There was no tension in Prof Mason's class, no self-censorship to avoid triggering the standard Leftist phrases.

Alinsky uses "free" behavior to crush free thought. In Mason's world of "unfree" behavior, the mind could relax, freed from the fear of intellectual bullying.

So this episode is dedicated to the memory of Prof Mason, who died last year.

[I carried this point in a different direction in Sushi or Smuckers.]

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