In South Dakota
I'm standing in a gas station somewhere in South Dakota when I look down to see my fists clenched. I feel a heightened sense of awareness and a desire to talk to nobody. All I want in the world is to find the bathrooms, fill up my water bottle, and get back to my car as quickly as possible. I turn a corner and run nearly into a middle-aged man wearing camo and scruff.
I start sweating. Where the FUCK are the bathrooms? I worry that it may be one of those situations where you have to ask the cashier for a key. It is.
"Here you go. The bathrooms are outside and to the right."
The chilly November night instantly dries my perspiration. The bathroom smells cleaner than it looks and there is a mirror above the toilet. I'm peeing and staring myself in the eyes when I congruently become self-reflective...What the fuck was that in there? I climb mountains often and know fear well...
Was that fear?
Hi. I'm Jesse Callahan Bryant and I have some serious classist tendencies. I come from a Northeastern suburbia where I was raised by college professors; a place where people misuse semi-colons often. A place where if you ask anybody what genres of music they listen to you'll often hear, "Oh, you know, pretty much everything...except Country, of course!" and where the Protestant ideals of career and community are as alive as they've always been, just, today we don't like all the talk about God. Especially if he's male. But we still love rationalism and technology.
Three days ago we elected Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, which was baffling to me and many that come from my culture. Baffling even to the pollsters. The pollsters...the people whose job it is to use the most modern scientific and statistical methods to accurately reflect reality apparently were even blind to it. Since then I've driven from my hometown in Upstate New York back to my current home in Jackson, Wyoming. I've spent thirty-some-odd hours reflecting on what the fuck happened, how I should feel about it, and how I should proceed. Here are a few incomplete thoughts...
I was raised in a household with classist tendencies which was embedded in a relatively classist culture. It was a household that worked, and continues to work, always to combat the social injustices suffered by minority races and genders in this country. While I was growing up we hosted kids from Harlem in the summer to give them a break from what we saw as, and what may absolutely be, a hot and unhealthy environment to live in. My mother is from a small town in Ohio and has fought sexism her entire life, especially early on in the world of academia.
For better and for worse, we are self-righteous about some things. One of my earliest memories is the sense of embaressment I felt having to listen to my mom verbally obliterate another parent in the grocery store for hitting their child. Another time, we were eating dinner with some families of other kids on my soccer team when the father of a teammate lost his cool on the waitress.
"What is this? Its not even cooked! And also, this has taken forever." etc. etc. at some point my Mom stepped in.
"Brian, have you ever even worked in a restaurant? You need to shut up, sit down, and eat your food. None of this is her fault. You certainly don't want your kids to grow up to be an asshole like you, do you? So don't act like one in front of them."
Within the incalculably nuanced sense of justice with which I was raised there were too some insidious assumptions which I am only now becoming sensitive to. The first is that thinking critically is holy, and thus, that people who lack the desire to think critically in the way I think is the right way to think are less than holy.
The central goal of life in the culture from which I come is distinctly capitalist. Its just that the capital we're obsessed with is intellectual capital. And in the same way perhaps some people obsessed with amassing financial capital look down on the beggars and the poor, we too have the tendency to look down on those who are poor in intellect. Its a mystery what compels the professorial types to look down on the venture capitalists, when in reality, they are usually both relatively.
We in my culture do certainly have blind faith in "progress" in its various forms, largely because it is the intellectual elite, the computer scientists, the engineers, who are least effected by that blindness. Here's an example, from Reddit no less, of the collateral damage of our lack of thinking:
What are we going to do when self driving trucks take over (and they will, sooner than you think) and one of the largest employee groups in America lose their jobs. Almost every trucker is going to be unemployed with literally no useful skills for the economy.
How much of rural America is built around supporting those truckers? The cafes and hotels and truck stops that may be the final source of income for many small towns along the interstate... with no more customers. Yes the trucks will still run on diesel but no drivers to eat at the truck stop or stay in the hotels. Hell the refueling stations will probably be automated.
I'm afraid this is our logic: We don't have a social obligation to the people who are being displaced by our technologies because, ultimately, they could have gone to college and gotten a better job. Its their fault their job is disappearing. They didn't work hard enough in school. They didn't compete hard enough and, you know, its a Darwinian world out there!
And back in South Dakota I returned the key.
"86 years, taught history and constitutional law for 30 of it. Can't see well enough anymore to hunt pheasant, but we raise buffalo in the back. Shot three yesterday. Don't wait too long to get your prostate checked...I have to give myself a catheter three times a day. It's not as bad as it sounds."