Last week my stepson, Alex, called from college to ask me to help him edit a paper for his freshman colloquium class. Alex attends a tiny liberal arts college in Ohio that has some very creative approaches to freshman colloquium; instead of everybody having to read the same material written by the same dead white guys, students learn critical thinking and writing skills by selecting colloquia with different themes. The one Alex chose is titled, “Money, Sex, and Conspiracy Theories.” At the beginning of the term, he told us he was working on a project about aliens. We worried that he might come home for Christmas break not only with newfound critical thinking abilities, but also possibly a tinfoil hat and a paranoid streak. So it was with some trepidation that I opened his email.
I’ve been editing all three kids’ homework forever — or at least since they figured out I’m a bigger grammar nerd than their dad. (Edit: Grammar blows, says Skip.) It’s neat, because I get to watch their writing develop; they’ve all come a long way since the days when our arguments used to be about why they couldn’t decide to spell words whatever way they felt like spelling them in the moment. (Now our arguments are about, you know, arguments.) Alex still misplaces capital letters occasionally, but he’s become a competent, clear, thorough writer. And I was especially pleased to see that the paper he wanted me to edit was not, in fact, about aliens; it was about class. (That’s my kid!)
Specifically it was about the possibility that the levees in New Orleans were deliberately sabotaged before Hurricane Katrina, in order to obliterate public housing projects and drive poor people out of the city. Alex spent last year as a full time Americorps volunteer (reprise: that’s my kid!), and he worked on flood restoration in both Iowa and New Orleans. He “witnessed the devastation first hand, three and a half years after the fact” (and I quote). In his paper, he weighs the evidence for and against conspiracy: he cites the 1927 flood in which the government of New Orleans blew up the levees and destroyed the homes of the rural poor in order to divert the water from the wealthy part of town; he notes that the Bush administration repeatedly denied the Army Corps of Engineers the funds to repair the levees, and he catalogues the bungled reconstruction efforts, the delays, the moldy trailers, all the people who never returned. I thought he made a pretty good case for a conspiracy — not that I’m biased or anything. But there was this one sentence in his paper I kept thinking about, even after I had inserted all the missing commas and capitalized all the proper nouns and emailed it back to him.
This was the sentence: “Still, it is undeniable that simply due to the geography of the city the poor areas are the most likely to flood.”
Didn’t Lao Tzu say something like that? What was it? Oh yeah: “the highest good is like water…it flows in the places men reject, and so is like the Tao”. Ursula LeGuin, my favorite writer, translates that passage like this: “Water’s good/ for everything./It doesn’t compete./ It goes right to the low loathsome places, / and so finds the way.”
OK, so sometimes water ISN’T good for everything. But it does go for the low places, the places men reject, that’s for sure. Water’s reliable that way.
Which leads me, of course, to the FPD.
I’m sure some people are wondering why the CAN channel is suddenly broadcasting all-FPD, all the time. What happened? Didn’t CAN just have a Board meeting, where the Board worked on all kinds of other stuff? Don’t we all have enough to do already? What’s up?
Let me tell you about another phone call I got awhile ago, asking me to do something. Not from my kids. Not about a paper.
Ever since I started making a nuisance of myself on a national level, I’ve been getting calls from disaffected acupuncturists who nobody else will listen to, who want me to understand them, who have theories — conspiracy theories — about what is going on in our little profession. Some of these calls were X-Files-esque: people who wouldn’t leave their number, people who wouldn’t tell me their last names, people I’d never met who called me up at home and whispered into the phone about dirt they knew about organizations with “AOM” somewhere in their names. I am not making this up. It used to freak me out. (For any of those X-Files callers who are reading this, I mean no disrespect; you didn’t know about each other, I’m sure, or that you were part of a moderately unnerving trend in my life there for a while.)I realized that mostly these people didn’t need me to do anything, they just needed someone to hear them out.
A few weeks ago, I got a call from somebody high up in one of what I think of as “the alphabet organizations”. Here’s the summary of the conversation: Hi Lisa, love your work! Did you know that they’re trying to push the FPD through again, under the radar? No? We thought maybe you didn’t, that’s why I’m calling. You were so successful at organizing against it last time, can you do that again? Not everybody in (alphabet organizations) is for it, but we can’t say anything in public. Lots of people think it would be terrible for the profession, but we have careers to protect. Oh, and all those current practitioners who think they’re going to be grandfathered in? They won’t be. Nobody’s getting grandfathered in to anything. No, I won’t talk to anybody else about this. This conversation is off the record. This conversation never happened. I don’t know you. You’ve got a month and a half, so get busy, OK? Did I mention I love your work? Bye now!
The real hero of this story, or maybe the martyr, is Skip, who didn’t get any sleep that night because he had to listen to me seethe. (Edit: she’s a real loud seether. –Skip)
Here’s the thing about conspiracy theories; they get your attention. They’re sexy — I, for example, have my very own Deep Throat! (Now, THAT’S what I went into acupuncture for!) Spies, machinations, subterfuge, intrigue — it’s all, well, intriguing. One of my friends, as I was seething to her the next day, said, is somebody going to make a movie about this? But as mad as it all makes me, I think all of that is not, actually, the important part. The important part is what Alex wrote about geography and how the poor areas are the most likely to flood.
If you really want to exclude certain kinds of people, you don’t have to have a conspiracy. If you really want to get rid of certain kinds of people, you don’t need to hang up a sign that says, YOU ARE NOT WANTED. You don’t have to hatch a fiendish plan. You don’t have to make back room deals between alphabet organizations.
All you have to do is make things expensive.
And then make them more expensive.
And the water and the geography will take care of the rest.
You can claim that you’re not political. You can be high-minded and refrain from judging other people’s choices. You can say you don’t want to take sides, that you can see everybody’s point of view. You can even say you’re all about peace, you don’t want any drama. You can say whatever you want, and it doesn’t matter; as long as you make something expensive, the exclusion will happen naturally, without you having to give it any attention at all. In fact, it’s even more effective that way.
That’s how privilege works. You can say you didn’t do anything, you didn’t know, you didn’t mean any harm. And you didn’t, you really didn’t. But still, when you look around, there are somehow no poor people in your way, no people of color in your space, nobody who inconveniently wants access to the good things you’ve got. How did that happen? Privilege means you never have to know.
Acupuncture education is a good thing. Nobody seems to know just how it got so expensive. Or so white. That’s just what happens naturally, isn’t it, as something becomes “mainstream”? It’s just the water and the geography, doing their thing.
We do realize, here at CAN, that we are doing some other people’s dirty work on the FPD. But since we live down in the low loathsome places, we don’t mind getting dirty. We know what it means for something like an entry level degree to become more expensive. It’s simple: it means, keep out. This whole thing, with or without conspiracies, isn’t complicated. Some people who already have privilege want more of it, and the people who will suffer because of that are the people that the privileged ones can’t even see. Because that’s how it works. You don’t need a tinfoil hat to tell which way the water goes.