‘School profits from graduating seniors’ (The Berkner Rampage, May 16, 1997)

[This is the one column I ever wrote for The Berkner Rampage, which was the school paper for Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas. It ran the month I graduated.]

“Welcome to BHS. May I take your order please?”

Graduation is an exciting day for seniors, schools, and businesses. It’s exciting for seniors because they get to leave one learning institution and move on to another. It’s exciting for schools and businesses because they get to take your money first.

When you become a senior, your mailbox begins to accumulate advertisements featuring 40-year-olds posing in prom suits. Why? The school provides lists of student names, ages, and addresses to tuxedo rental stores, senior picture shops, and any other related organization.

Observe this notice: “When honor graduates are announced in May, these students should purchase honor stoles from Mrs. K***n in the Senior Attendance Office for $10. A $2 refund will be given upon return of the stole in good condition on Tuesday, May 27.” You actually have to pay an $8 smart tax at this school.

Here’s an abbreviated list of what you must buy to be a Most Valuable Student: banquet tickets; fill-in-the-blank plaques honoring your parents; wildly overpriced fund raising items; Ram Jam tickets (I actually got a call asking why I hadn’t bought one); class rings just to prove how proud you are to have attended a school that you only went to because you happened to be in the district; a $30 brick with your name engraved on it – if you have a name like John Smith, don’t bother.

This excessive peddling is justified with “School Spirit.” Loyalty is a gold mine. If you don’t buy a Berkner jacket, you must be a spy from an enemy school.

It’s the ultimate marketing scheme. Rather than hiring salesmen to go door-to-door to hock the merchandise, we, the potential customers, are required by law to come here to receive the sales pitch. Perhaps school officials should be required to have a degree in marketing before getting a job in America’s education system.

Does it matter that school traditions make enough profit to run a communistic country? All of the previously mentioned is basically fair. The sneaky and unethical tactics are what bother me most.

Usually, nobody sane would buy water from a $.75 vending machine whey they could get the same thing for free from a water fountain. That’s why the water fountains are left with either gum covering up the water spout, or a hunk of chewed up meat rotting near the drain.

Not all of the scams are legally associated with the education distribution program. You may get a letter in the mail that guarantees you a scholarship in exchange for cash, check, or major credit card, but if you fall for something like that, you probably would have spent the money on a pyramid scheme anyway.

I don’t think that we should stop funding the schools; I just think we should stop relying on the students to do it. All of the money lost on gambles such as the Carnival and the Pajama Jammie Jam could easily have been spent on perfectly good metal detectors and identification badges to track independent-minded pupils.

Go ahead and buy the Ram logo from the Ramporium, but have you ever thought about why you spent the money on prom tickets, pictures, corsage, limo and flowers? Was it because you wanted to, or because you had been convinced that you’d never stop regretting it if you didn’t?

I don’t consider graduating a monumental feat, and I’m not alone. Conservative commentators enjoy ceaselessly flaunting all the kids who graduate and can’t even read their own diplomas. However, that may only be true because of the incomprehensible font that’s used.

Conservative commentators also advocate privatizing everything from homeless shelters to the entire executive branch. But the schools aren’t going to be tampered with – they’re privatizing themselves.

I was told, “It seems sort of foolish to go through 12 years of school and then not attend the commencement ceremony.” What does paying for a tassel, cap and gown to blend in with the crowd, and buying a photo of myself grabbing a generic diploma really mean? That I forgive the compulsory education laws for what I’ve been through?

What graduation does is to sugarcoat all of our experiences so that when we have school age children, we can dismiss their complaints about it, because remember, school was just one huge party!

Excuse me for being unsentimental, but I never got around to suppressing the memories of the best years of my life. So if you see me stand up at the graduation ceremonies and denounce the fascist learning regime, be sure to take a picture, because I’ll be the only one.

[Note: I did not stand up and denounce the fascist learning regime at graduation. Instead I told them an incorrect pronunciation of my name for their announcement, and I disrespectfully took off my cap before I walked across the stage. That may or may not have showed them.]

Vegan Domination

In January, Aeon magazine published my essay “The vegans have landed”. In the essay, I take a common vegan thought experiment – “how would meat eaters feel if omnivorous aliens came here and treated us the way we treat animals?” – and pose the same question to vegans: how would they feel if vegan aliens came here and treated us the way vegans treat animals?

I intended the essay as a critique of animal rights rhetoric; vegans criticize meat eaters for violating animal interests/rights, yet gloss over their own violations of animal interests/rights. The essay got mostly negative comments, and most of the ones I read came from vegans and even meat eaters arguing from a suffering reduction position, which is a different way of making the case for veganism than animal rights is. Since I wasn’t trying to dispute the suffering reduction argument for veganism with this essay, I felt these criticisms missed the point. Andrew Sullivan posted a letter I wrote making that case.

“Anarchist Vs. Anarchist” by Joseph Weisenthal and Rhys Southan (early 2001)

Together:
Anarchy, oh anarchy, it’s totally coercion free
We may disagree on what it’ll be, but it’s the best for you and me

Capitalist Anarchist:
Inefficiency and corruption are key aspects of the state
If the market were to protect your rights it’d be for a cheaper rate
It’s all about economics and theory of public choice
Unrestricted capitalism gives everyone a voice

Socialist Anarchist:
Capitalism is inherently flawed cause success comes on failure’s back.
The rich man has it all, while the failed man’s in the lack
I can see the future, I can see that it is good
But I can only do so, ‘cause on giants I’ve stood

Capitalist Anarchist:
Coercion is a commodity to be traded on the free market
There’s no difference between buying violence, and shoes you buy at Target
The state is an institution that has a monopoly on force
You ask, can we do this without them, and we respond, of course

Socialist Anarchist:
You think that the free market will cure all of our ills
And everyone will prosper and nobody will kill
But who is gonna grant the charters of incorporation
Those will disappear as soon as we destroy the nation

Together:
Anarchy, oh anarchy, it’s totally coercion free
We may disagree on what it’ll be, but it’s the best for you and me

Capitalist Anarchist:
Private courts and insurance will make sure life is fair
Contract law will still exist so don’t be getting scared
On page 13 of Bruce Benson’s Enterprise of Law
He proves that to ignore these facts is a fatal flaw

Socialist Anarchist:
Bruce Benson’s Enterprise of Law is unmitigated junk
Analogies to ancient tribes is certainly a load of bunk
They were bound by honor and the tradition of man
Like that fallacious utopia you call medieval Iceland

Capitalist Anarchist:
The hubris of the government claims to tell you what you need
But we can decide that for ourselves when all of us are freed
Privately run agencies are necessary for protection
If you can’t afford their dues, self-defense is your selection

Socialist Anarchist:
Who will be there to protect your car when we come with a crowbar and bash it
Who will be there to protect your daughter’s skull when we come with a bat and smash it
Who will be there to protect your house in the West Hills
Don’t give me that shit about P.E.As [note: Private Enforcement Agencies], it’s them we’re gonna kill

Capitalist Anarchist:
Why would you kill me when your labor you could sell
Destruction may seem fun at first, but trading is as well
We could be productive and we could all have wealth
The market is the only means for universal health

Socialist Anarchist:
How can there be capitalism without your beloved state
Without the fucking police no property right is safe
Everyone will share and give and lose their sense of identity
They’ll work in freedom and harmony for the benefit of everybody

Capitalist Anarchist:
Sharing is a noble goal, but it simply does not work
What about parasites and deviants and jerks?
If people want to keep their lives, they will pay for that right
There will always be evil thieves, but it’s them the free market fights

Socialist Anarchist:
You say that without the market there won’t be any incentive
But when you love your fellow man, it inspires you to be inventive
Instead of competition we will stress cooperation
Instead of fighting stupid wars, we will use arbitration

Capitalist Anarchist:
How will you achieve your socialist goals without authoritarinaism
You can only achieve equality with totalitarianism
Some people are objectively better than their fellow man
We should reward people not just for existing, but for doing what they can

Socialist Anarchist:
We’ll spread the wealth through many ways like vigilantism
There’ll be differences among us, like the colors of a prism
Everyone has his or her own place inside the rainbow
This is so damn obvious I can’t believe you didn’t know

Capitalist Anarchist:
Supply and demand dictates that order will ensue
It may not be centrally planned but we’ll all know what to do
In a tort based system of law, everyone is free
You can get away with murder as long as you pay a fee

Together:
Anarchy, oh anarchy, it’s totally coercion free
We may disagree on what it’ll be, but it’s the best for you and me

Ultimately it’s tough to say what anarchy will be
We’ll just have to get there, try it and then we’ll see
In fact maybe there could be many different forms
A lot of it may depend on pre-existing societal norms
Other factors may include altitude, climate and race
Tradition, geology, geography and tastes
Also you cannot forget the nature of the state’s devolution
Will it simply whither, sell off assets, or violent revolution
Until we get to this ideal anarchistic state
We must kill for this bright goal and now cooperate
Capitalists and socialists are standing hand in hand
Waiting for a chance to bring freedom to this land

A Word From My Self-Concept

Rhys Southan
Health I
8-26-96

Overall, I feel good about myself. In school I get satisfying grades, but that may directly relate to the fact that I didn’t take any classes that seemed unnecessary or overwhelming. I also only have six classes this year, so I can spend more time getting the homework finished. The classes that I did take, for the most part, were interesting to me, or seemed important. Therefore, I don’t harbor any negative feelings about teachers, the school district, or me as a student. Although, every once in a while, I feel guilty for not taking any classes like calculus or physics that would have been more challenging. I guess I’ll have to take classes like that in college, but for my chosen career path, knowledge on those subjects is near to useless.

My family encourages me on the things I like to do, so that helps. My mom convinced me to “call into work late” so that I could go to theatre callbacks. My dad honestly congratulated me when I got an internship at the Met. Simply put, I rarely get unnecessarily constrained.

To feel better about myself, and my talents, I write. I took a screenplay writing class two summers ago, and learned a lot. Now and again, I still go to discussions and reading with other writers at my screenplay writing instructor’s house. As I mentioned earlier, I like to do theatre. It brings me together with other people, and is a fun way to express myself. When I get a part or anything, of course I feel better about myself, but if I don’t get a part, I am never too disappointed, because I realize that there is a negative even to getting casted. It’s very time consuming, and I would have to reschedule my working hours around it. Also, I am self-aware that I can always do better “next time,” and that it’s not all bad.

All together, my self esteem is impeccable.

Notes on “Unjustly Overlooked Classics in Fascist Cinema,” a critique of Andy Anderson’s “Detention” (Fall 1997)

Rhys –

Really great job with this draft! This is an interesting, insightful analysis. Most of my comments are local – see margins. A larger question I have concerns potential objections to your characterization of Texas public schools. You paint a very totalizing picture of a school system that has succeeded in stiffling student creativity and preventing free thought. And yet, you (I assume) and lots of other students have managed to come out of that system with your own ideas and the ability to critique the system that you characterize as an “authoritarian regime” that has done nothing but hurt students. Furthermore, I know for certain that, whatever the shortcomings of the system, there are many very good teachers and individuals in that system who do teach students how to think for themselves and really help them. By presenting such a one-sided picture, you risk alienating readers who might agree with you that the system has some major problems, but who choose to work from within the system for positive change. Power is rarely so totalizing as you make it seem, and your argument would benefit from a perspective that accounts for the forms of resistance to this system and its ideology as well as for the problems.

-JH

Rhys “J” Southan: Open Christmas, 2006. DO NOT MAIL

Oct. 25, 1996

Dear Rhys (or whatever you have renamed yourself),

Welcome to the present. It is now the 21st century and I imagine gene splicing is running rampant. No matter, I hope you are now somewhat of an important presence in the field of film, or the futuristic equivalent of film.

Let me remind you of the incidents surrounding the time of this writing which is building up to your desired fate. It is now nearing election time and the real race is between Clinton and Dole. It looks undoubtable that Clinton will win, but you support neither. I support Mary Cal Hollis, the [Democratic] Socialist Party candidate. Obviously she doesn’t have a chance, but maybe in your time (if you opened this when you should have – Oct. 25, 2006), [Democratic] Socialism is the new government system in America, or at least the SP is more high profile.

Back to me, I am in my senior year at Berkner High, and have aspirations to become a screenwriter. I haven’t been to student-aiding Harry Preston for almost a year, but soon that will change with your work in progress. “Man Vs. Society: A Love Story” or “How to be Unpopular,” whichever title you stick with. I’m sure I would have gone by now if it wasn’t for working at the torture pit, Best Buy. My short term goal is to quit working there and start concentrating on my writings and my T-Shirt line, Trendy Sheepwear ©™®. Maybe you’re rich from the sale of T-shirts, and if you are, you better not have joined the ranks of those T-shirt makers you make fun of. If so, shame on you! Is that how I raised you? No.

Good.

Another aspiration I have for you is that you not get married. But if you must, it better be such an unexpected marriage as to get you on talk shows (If they still exist in this high-tech world of yours). As for having kids, it is your duty. I know you don’t want to but you must spread your golden DNA under any means possible, but if gene splicing really has taken the world by storm, people will be begging you to sell them your DNA pattern so they can fashion the rest of humans after you. I suggest you do it, but the only problem is that your goal to be unique would be shattered. Unless your near-clones would be so intent on being unique that they would rebel against themselves.

MM: [crossed out].

Just last night your Viewer’s Thumb was on Siskel & Ebert, and Siskel seemed to agree with you more. Harry Preston just called and my interview about movies was played on Sunday. Hopefully at this point in your life you’re actually involved in the making of movies rather than just the critiquing of them.

What else? You be the judge.

Sincerely,

Rhys Southan

How to Have a Thick Skin

Step 1. To dull the sting after a mean comment, your automatic reaction should be that the comment says more about the comment-maker than it says about you. Remember that they are not saying this about the real you (if such a thing exists), but the you that they perceive.

Step 2. If you can psychologically detach from the conflict like that, negative comments are easy to shrug off. However, if you remained at that step, you would never learn from legitimate criticism. The second thing you should do is figure out why the person said this.

Step 3. If the comment had no basis in reality, was only intended to cause you pain, was based on a misunderstanding, or was about something you have no control over, then it’s meaningless. Ignore it. If, on the other hand, there is something real to the comment, it could merit further consideration.

Step 4. If the comment was coming from an honest place, or at least partially honest, the question becomes whether you disagree with the comment and have good reason for doing so, or if you should take the comment to heart and change in some way. If you disagree, articulate to yourself why you disagree – why your behavior, statement or trait being criticized is the way it is and should stay that way. If it’s merely a disagreement, there is nothing for you to be upset about. It’s just a difference in opinion.

Step 5. If the person making the rude comment is right, make the appropriate adjustments.

Other Superstitious Causes of Bad Luck

Walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, stepping on a crack and spilling salt are behaviors best avoided because of the detrimental effect they have on future luckiness. Here are some others:

* Falling off a bridge (4 years bad luck)

* Flicking a wasp’s nest (9 months bad luck)

* Going all in with a 7/2 against pocket aces with two aces and a king on the flop (100 years bad luck)

* Swallowing whole chicken bones (2 weeks bad luck)

* Bringing a fake bomb to an airport (12 years bad luck)

* Speeding on icy roads in a jalopy with no seat belt (7 weeks bad luck)

* Walking on a tightrope between two tall buildings when you have no tightrope walking experience and are drunk (1 year bad luck)

* Getting lost in a dangerous neighborhood at night, finding an ATM and withdrawing your entire bank account, and then holding the money in the air as you wander the streets, pleading for assistance (11 months bad luck)

* Throwing a heavy rock in the air and then seeing if you can run and stand right where it’s going to land (16 years bad luck)

* Insulting somebody’s group identity when their group identity is notorious for killing people who insult it (9 years bad luck)

* Diving into a volcano, wearing only a thin jacket (1 minute bad luck)