A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal--guidelines, focus, etc.--go to www.theamericandissident.org. If you have questions, please contact me at todslone@hotmail.com. Comments are NOT moderated (i.e., CENSORED)!]
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia, not to mention Sweden, England, and Austria.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reactions to Reactions

Boring, Retarded, Chaos, the "N" Word, Great, Back to the Future
Parce que cela dérange. La vérité n’a jamais eu de succès. [Because it upsets, truth never had success. trad. gts]
—Raymond Lévesque

Escribo exactamente lo que pienso. [I write exactly what I think. trad. gts]
—Juan Goytisolo

The function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it invites a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it passes for acceptance of an idea.
—Chief Justice William O Douglas

Far too many young citizens are being "educated," in the same manner as their predecessors, to perceive the critic and his criticism as negative, rather than positive. After all, without criticism, one would have to assume no problems exist and things fine and dandy in the Republic. The reality, however, is that problems are abundant in America. The current massive fraud perpetrated by perhaps thousands of "honorable-appearing" suit-and-tie banker members of the American Chamber of Commerce underscores just how deeply and insidiously corruption can run in this country. In any case, the first step to improvement is criticism, while the next activism.

The following are student comments regarding The American Dissident, its website, and/or my poetry reading. My prime concern is that a few students grossly misinterpreted reality (i.e., the facts). "When I first looked at the website, I had no idea what it was," wrote Rob, for example. "Then when I started reading some of the websites homepage I realized that this guy is a nut. When I read that people of Concord wanted to shut the site down and arrest him."

"Nut" is fine, though a base example of ad hominem. It is far more constructive to present facts to support the epithet, than simply presenting the epithet. "Nut" doesn't really bother me at all, because I have spine. "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me," had taught my mother. My concern is rather with the statement on shutting down the site and arresting me, since not once on the site was such a statement or inference made. It is of utmost importance for citizens to read (and perceive) accurately. Without doubt, some citizens lay in jail today because other citizens testified against them erroneously.

Both positive and negative comments were received. Several students thought the reading "boring," while others really liked it. People, of course, have to realize that poetry is poetry, while comedy comedy. Was I supposed to be George Carlin in front of the podium, there to entertain, or be a poet, there to make people think?

Often the negative comments hit hardest. BUT if I am to dish out criticism, as I often do, then I certainly must be prepared for criticism of what I dish out. My reactions follow each comment. In some cases, I attempt by logic to show students where they might be wrong. In other cases, students show me where I might be wrong. With that regard, I eliminated from the website mention of "mentally challenged" and "retarded," though I was not at all criticizing people with very limited intellectual capacity. On the contrary, I was criticizing poets, professors and editors. Also, I've been reflecting on my overly general critique of the "wealthy." For me, the reading was a wonderful and highly satisfying opportunity to present my ideas and criticisms to students and professors alike. For that I am eternally grateful to Professor Sklar for having the courage and generosity to invite someone like me.

Nicole: “I really enjoyed the presentation by G. Tod Sloan. I had a bias against him at first from the thoughts and feelings people were saying about him prior to his arrival at Endicott. I didn't think I was going to like him. I pictured this old, grey haired man that talked slow and barely made sense. I guess this is why you can't always judge before you meet someone. I ended up really liking him. He has a good sense of humor and his way of writing is unique and interesting. I like how he continuously read little poems he had written and made comments here and there. Usually I am not intrigued at presentations but he had my attention. I enjoyed it. I'd like to hear him present again. He's interesting. He's unique. I liked it.”

Reaction: I liked your description of me as a possible old geezer, and thank you for the compliments.

Courtney: I personally, dislike negative, harsh poems like G. Tod Slone’s. I feel that life is unpleasant enough so why write about horrible things and become more depressed. I do understand journals and people getting out their feelings, so if it is that kind of thing then it is ok. I do also believe in freedom of speech, but again, why make up things that are depressing. I think creative writing is wonderful and yes, who wants to listen to all those famous poets all the time, but G. Tod Slone goes over and above this. You can be outspoken and unlike other standard poets without having to be so harsh about everything.

Reaction: Ouch, that hurt! BUT I’m glad you have the courage to speak your mind even when so HARSH! (Just joking with your word “harsh.”) Actually, I do not normally “make up things.” The reality of my various encounters is more than enough to keep me sparked creatively.

Mike: After waiting about half an hour, G. Tod Sloan arrived. I had high hopes at the start of it because it seemed like he was an interesting guy. The main point of his argument was to express yourselves and not let the teachers hold our thoughts back. So therefore that is what I am going to do in this review. It started off being very boring, with a few nice poems read. I confidently looked up and was waiting for it to get better. That never happened, it seemed like he was going on rants about certain types of people and things he didn't like. I especially hated when he read poems in different languages. We are at Endicott College in the United States of America, read the poems in ENGLISH. Not many people can understand your languages. We get the idea its the "cool" thing to do to know all of these languages, but most students cannot understand the different world languages he used. At the end of the day, bringing it all together the poems were not that bad. They had some meaning if you thought and focused, so that was a nice thing to have amidst the negative things about all other types of people but poets.

Reaction: Ouch! BUT I am glad that you have no problems expressing YOUR mind, even though as a RANT sort of way! (Just joking with your word “rants.”) Of course, regarding the languages, I read only one short poem in French, the translation in English, then one extremely short one in Spanish. You make it sound as if all I were doing was reading in foreign languages. Also, the USA is a multilingual country. Spanish is spoken by millions of American citizens. Parts of New Hampshire and Maine, not to mention Louisiana, are French speaking. And as mentioned, learning foreign languages opens the doors to other cultures and hopefully opens ones mind while doing so. By the way, two students liked the fact that I read those poems in foreign languages. So, evidently with that regard, I could not please everyone. In fact, a dissident certainly cannot hope to please everyone. If he pleases the majority, he is not a dissident, but a politician. As for “boring,” it can refer to any number of things, including to ones own inability to connect to what is being said. In other words, it is not necessarily the speaker’s flaw, but can also be that of the listener.

Liz: I enjoyed the poetry reading presented by G. Tod Slone. I think Slone’s personality came out in his poetry which made me enjoy it even more. He was a very honest man; he said what was on his mind without regard to others. One of my favorite things about Slone’s poetry is the fact that many of his poems were written in other languages. Even though I didn’t understand the poem he read in French, I thought it sounded beautiful. Sometimes the way something sounds makes it special, even though I didn’t understand the meaning or the vocabulary of the poem. It was beneficial when Slone discussed why he wrote each poem and the story behind it, before reading it. This allowed me to understand where the poem came from. Such as that poem he wrote when he was holding a sign at Walden Pond when the poets walked by. Had I heard that poem without hearing the background information I would have had no understanding of the meaning. Slone was a funny guy, I enjoyed when he referred to his wife as his female friend. I feel that I benefited from the reading; I learned that anything can inspire a poem to be written.
Reaction: Thanks much for the kind words!

Emily: This is a man who has no problem offending people with his opinions, and in my opinion, we are better off for his blunt insight. There is a time and place for everything, and it seems that G. Tod Slone has found his place in a dark, venomous, and brilliantly unique world all his own. He expresses his very essence in his writings, writings that are earthy and grounded. Most major poets work hard to build labyrinths with their words, which I sometimes feel are meant more to impress than to inspire or convey an emotion, event, or experience they had. G. Tod Slone, however, is not a poet like that. He tells you like it is in language we all use and comprehend. It is his blunt simplicity that moves me to call him great.

Reaction: Thank you for the compliment! I shall have to put that comment on my resume! Just kidding, of course.

Liz (2): I know that in the beginning of his seminar he said that he wasn’t going to be an entertainer, but then again he also said he wasn’t going to bore us, which seemed to happen. For a lot of the event I was bored and unfazed by what he was reading. I was scanning the crowd to see who attended and finding several ways to entertain myself. It seemed to me as though his poems were too scripted and there wasn’t enough freedom to them, but maybe then again it was the way that he was reading them. I wish he had put more emphasis and emotion into his reading that way the audience would have been more involved and engaged in what he was saying. I did like the way that everything he read was so different from one another. It was as though he was reading a bunch of different poems by different poets. I think it’s nice to have different ways to go about writing and that when it’s all very similar it tends to get old. I’m not going to lie; I definitely wouldn’t have attended this event if I wasn’t required to. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever been to, but it wasn’t the worst. I liked the way that it was an open poetry seminar and that people could share poems and pieces of writing that they wrote. I would never have the guts to do something like that, so it makes me respect those people and their confidence in their writing. I think the whole event just needed more excitement to it, in order to keep people’s attention and to get people involved.

Reaction: Ouch! But glad you have the courage to express yourself openly, even and especially when critical! Of course, I was concerned that I might have been akin to a preacher speaking to a roomful of atheists. Some would say, however, that it was not for me to dumb down and try to sing and dance on stage in an effort to grab your attention. Again, it takes two to tango. In other words, if the listener does not know, or has no interest in, what the speaker is talking about, it is inevitable the listener will become bored.

Kevin: “But at the same time I think he does some things just for a reaction. Like when he said the "N" word in class talking about something that he saw in NC.”

Reaction: Actually, I was not trying to get a reaction by using that word. Just the same, we’re adults, so if we all begin saying the “n” word, then we all fall into collective cowardice. Say the word! Not to say it constitutes the banning of a word. Journalists have been shamefully teaching us to do that. Orwell’s 1984 shows where word banning leads to. Also, perhaps trying to get a reaction is not necessarily negative.

Kevin: “I also think some of the stories he told he did not give the whole story, like when he was kicked out of the library. I feel as though he had some form of guilt, he didn't just get kicked out for being G.”

Reaction: Very good point. Indeed, how could someone w/o similar experience believe it actually possible that I hadn’t done anything wrong? This of course leads me to think about the Innocence Project, which has exonerated over a hundred prisoners, some incarcerated for murder and rape. They were in prison because of corrupt police, corrupt district attorneys, and false witness testimonials. Many people will still believe they’re guilty, no matter what. Also, with my regard, I was not offered possibility of due process. In other words, the librarian got to serve as judge and jury, while I didn’t even have the opportunity to pose my defense. That’s not supposed to happen in America! But it does and did.

Nick: “I liked to see that there are negative posts up on the blog as well. Seeing that he is not afraid to face criticism, and is willing to write responses to it rather than let it scare him off.”

Reaction: Good observation. Clearly, I could have “moderated” those blog comments, but if I had I would not have been any different from others who “moderate” (a nice word for “censor”). Many blogs have a list of rules, many of which are vague and clearly open to subjectivity. In fact, InsideHigherEd.com “moderates” and censored one of my comments. Because of that I was inspired to do a watercolor of the editor/moderator. In my humble opinion, “moderation” (i.e., censorship) does not belong in higher education at all and that includes censoring the word “nigger” by calling it the “n” word. BTW, I do not use that word to refer to blacks. I taught four years at two black colleges (HBCUs) and that enabled me to get a close look at black youth. It opened my eyes a tad. I know that there are all kinds of blacks just as there are all kinds of whites. Others, however, do use that word. Let’s bring that out into the arena of vigorous debate.

Katie: “The first thought that popped into my head when I open the website for The American Dissident was utter chaos. There is so much written on the first homepage, that I was not really sure where to begin my journey on the site.”

Reaction: Keep in mind that “chaos” means lack of organization. I have spent years organizing The American Dissident website. Clearly, it is organized. Perhaps you meant “chaos” in your mind as a result of seeing so much material?

Sarah: “When I first went to the website for "The American Dissident," it struck me how cluttered the home page is.”

Reaction: “Clutter” and “erratic” (Kristen’s word below) infer “chaos” or lack of organization. Rather than “clutter” or “erratic,” I think it would have been more appropriate to state there was a lot of material, much of which seemed foreign to you… or something like that. Just the same, I shall have to contemplate this criticism of “chaos,” though I do think “chaos” is not the appropriate term. Because you look at something and find it “overwhelming” or even “confusing” does not necessarily make it chaotic.

Kristen: “After looking around the website I was somewhat confused. I read some of the essays, none of which were by G. Tod Slone, and saw that they all had the common theme of 'telling it like it is'. […] When I went to the poem section I saw that Slone didn't have any writings there which I found strange. I feel as though if he was going to make a site that he should put some of his own ideas in writing.”

Reaction: Actually, many of my essays are posted on the website, but not on the page of essays written by famous persons. I wanted to avoid putting my name next to them, for evident reasons. Yours is a strange criticism because, if anything, I think there is too much, not too little, of my own writing on the website. In fact, that would be my major criticism of the journal: too much of my writing et al in each issue. However, I justify that by the fact that I rarely if ever receive a sufficient number of good submissions to fill a given issue.

Jill: “As an entertainer, you would have to write in a style that attracted others specifically so I think that is why we may have not enjoyed his poetry as much as he does himself.”

Reaction: Yours is a tough criticism for me to respond to. Perhaps the following Bukowski quote serves as a good response: “When poetry becomes popular enough to fill cabarets and music halls, then something is wrong with that poetry or with that audience.” Indeed, if everyone liked my poetry then clearly it would not possess such a critical bent. Moreover, if so many liked it, I suspect I’d be trying to please, as opposed to speaking the rude truth as I saw it. For me, a poet should always choose the latter, not the former. Also, it’s best for you to speak for yourself and not speak for the collective (i.e., “we”). Doing the latter is a hackneyed, hollow rhetorical tactic. Besides, how do you know how everyone thought? As you can read here, some did in fact like it. So, avoid using “we.” Just a tip.

Kelly: “However, like G. Tod said, all professors do not fit that mold. I agree that you most definitely don’t fit that mold, but I think he is being a little harsh saying that 99.99% do. There are other professors out there, even some at Endicott, that shares a similar philosophy.”

Reaction: Good point. However, I base that 99.99% on my experience over the past several decades of constant questioning and challenging of professors throughout the USA. Rarely, indeed, do I ever receive a response. Perhaps 95% would have been a better figure. Ninety per cent would have definitely been too generous for that would constitute one out of ten. My experience dictates the number to be more like one out of 100 or even higher. My testing the waters of democracy in academe supports this statement.

Kelly: I was a bit taken aback when he stated that poets are not meant to entertain. He went on to say that he was entertaining at the moment and was therefore a hypocrite. Why can’t poets entertain? Aren’t they writing so that someone can read them? Reading a poem in itself is a form of entertainment. I think that at times he may try to put too many restrictions on what it is he does. He appears to be a man who writes when he wants to write and does what he pleases. We do not need to define a poet. A poet just is.

Reaction: Good points here. I did want to bring that contradiction to light, which is why I mentioned it. But what I really stated, or at least wanted to state, was that FOR ME a poet should not be an entertainer (i.e., a court jester or courtesan), but rather a rude truth teller. Again, this is my opinion. What I actually said during the reading was that by standing up in front of people, it was automatic that I was expected to entertain them. BUT I did have the choice between acting as a court jester of poetic fluff or as a teller of hard truths. Thus, I chose the latter. You’re right, there was a definite conflict in my mind with that regard. Hypocrisy? Perhaps a little. But I’m not fully convinced. Yet how else to get my message out there in the agora of ideas that is supposed to be our democracy? In other words, I could justify my appearance, arguing that by standing in front of professors and students I could be highly critical of them, and that was an opportunity not to be missed. Most poets today were careerists. In that sense, most did not dare “go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways” (Emerson). What they sought to do was win prizes, get published, and become famous.

Kelly: “I’m not sure why, but I found it uncharacteristic that he had prepared what he was going to say. I have never met him before, however from what I had known of him I expected him to stand up there and wing it. Just read some poems and tell us about himself.”

Reaction: Again, yours is an interesting comment. I’m not really a “winger.” Good writing inevitably requires much organization, research (looking up words in the dictionary or whatever), and editing, quite the opposite of “winging” it. Some poems, at least of mine, do not read well out loud. Thus, I wanted to go over my poems at home to make sure they read okay, fluently. Some I decided were too long, so didn’t use them. It’s always a tough call and subjective. Preparation is important. Because I have a dissident (questioning and challenging) mind does not automatically mean I don’t prepare or wish to prepare. On the contrary, I’ve got to reflect and prepare perhaps more than most because I want my arguments to be solid.

Caitlin: “However; as I continued to read I found some things to be a bit offensive. When describing the purpose of this website the following statement was made, "An integral part of the journal's focus includes the highlighting of intelligent, often educated people (e.g., professors, teachers, poets, and editors) oddly possessing a severe deficiency in the area of logical argumentation. One might indeed label them Mentally Challenged, in the PC sense, though unlike the retarded, they are not challenged in the areas of memory and successful conformist functioning in society." I did not like how he originally called the Mentally Challenged, mentally challenged and then later referred to them as "retarded." I thought that his statement was a bit offensive. I also think that he should not be categorizing. I thinking that he is making a lot of stereotypes and I didn't really like what he had to say. However, I read one of his articles any ways.

Reaction: Here’s a great quote on OFFEND from a black female writer, Jamaica Kincaid: “Express everything you like. No word can hurt you. None. No idea can hurt you. Not being able to express an idea or a word will hurt you much more. As much as a bullet. [...] A lot of energy is wasted on these superficial things [speech codes]... I can’t get upset about ‘offensive to women’ or ‘offensive to blacks’ or ‘offensive to native Americans’ or ‘offensive to jews’... Offend! I can’t get worked up about it. Offend!” I agree with her entirely. Our educational system is forcing students to be overly concerned with offending and little concerned with truth telling. I mean and meant no mockery whatsoever with regards the “retarded.” Too many students (and professors) today focus more on PC terminology, than on logic and truth… and that is what is so very sad. “Mentally challenged” or “retarded”? What’s the difference? It’s a simple matter of superficial semantics! Why should “mentally challenged” be kinder than “retarded”? To me, the former sounds absurd and forced upon us by leftist PC educators. No thanks! Perhaps if I’ve “offended” you then indeed I did my “job” as poet. I am far more concerned not with offending you, but with you being easily offended. Democracy demands spine (and tough skin)! Yet citizens today seem to have less and less of it. Truth by its very nature will often be offensive. Given the choice between truth and being offensive, I’ll always choose the former. Also, I did not write ALL poets, ALL professors and ALL editors were thus. I simply mentioned them as examples of “educated” classes of people.

For many more comments, see www.theamericandissident.org/Hope.htm.


mather said...

I can't believe you were late to the speaking engagement!

G. Tod Slone said...

Yes, I had to hang my head in shame! But I did apologize. The odd thing was that I had to hang around campus for over four hours waiting for four o'clock, since I had shown up for the 9:30 class to speak to students. It's over one hour by car. Showing up late was thus definitely not purposeful. I just added more student comments.

mather said...

Doesn't the campus have one of those old church-tower clocks that gongs, every fifteen minutes? I'm just giving you a hard time about it, but seriously if I was a student I probably would have split. I'll read the other comments right now, I liked the others, though it's clear to most of them the whole thing (looking at the web site, listening, writing comments) is an assignment and they're just trying to say something that sounds intelligent. Whatever, they're young, and some of them are pretty perceptive I think.

mather said...

Well, you're pretty good with these students, seems like... you've got your kid gloves on...It's kind of sweet...

One thing I did notice (not to start a tire-fire here) was when the girl made the comment about being offended by the word "retarded". Now, I'm in total agreement with you about it, it's just a word that has fallen out of fashion, and anyone who is offended by it is obviously completely entrenched in PC terminology, but, later on you tell someone to watch their words, and say "criticize" instead of "complain". To me it is the same matter of semantics. A complaint can be a criticism and vice-versa. It's a non-point. You just don't like being called a complainer, it's a word that doesn't sit well with you, just as "retarded" and "nigger" don't sit well with others. But, to simply avoid using the word or to change the word, even to something ostensibly more accurate, does not eliminate the problem, or the sentiment.

G. Tod Slone said...

No clock tower or church on campus that I saw. Still I had no excuse. Shit does happen, as they say, like it or not. Yes, it was an assignment for students, but an interesting or at least different one for a lot of them. Yes, they are young and some are quite perceptive.

Actually, I did end up removing that whole "retarded" sentence from the website because I thought it did not really add anything to that statement.

Kid gloves? Not really! At least, I don't think so. I treated them as adults, and they are adults.

God forbid, another "tire fire"! I had to laugh at that one.
Nevertheless, I do disagree with you. "Retarded" vs. "mentally challenged" is definitely, as you mention, a PC issue, but "complain" vs. "criticize" is not. The two words are not synonymous. "Complain" is much more pejorative, in fact, entirely pejorative, whereas "criticize" is much less pejorative. I think perhaps that student really meant "criticize" (hopefully meant) and not "complain."
"Complain" also tends to act like ad hominem, dismissing the criticism by denigrating it with a pejorative word. But you're right, it boils down to another question of semantics. However, it's a lot more than my simply not liking to be called a complainer, as you state. True, I do not like it, but only because I am not normally a complainer. I am a critic. And there's a world of difference, semantic or not, between the two. Complaining tends to be repetitive about relatively insignificant issues, as in the food sucks or it's raining again or he stuck his tongue out at me. Criticizing, on the other hand, tends to concern more important issues as in corruption in higher education or backslapping in the poetry milieu or change we can believe in but still we'll have lobbying per usual and pork.

G. Tod Slone said...

The assignment to respond to me was optional and not graded.