Dominick Lawton

Dear Hypocrite: An Advice Column


Dear Hypocrite,

Is it okay not to know how to drive? Is it dangerous or anything? I mean physically, culturally, socially, psychologically? Should I be ashamed? I can swim.


Dear Ped,

The main reason I typically advise people to learn to drive is simple: it's fun, and it can get you places. But if you feel that a) taking control of two tons of potentially very fast metal is more 'stressful' than 'enjoyable', or that b) you live somewhere with ample public transit and don't need to take your chances in a car, then you should feel entirely comfortable spurning the pleasures of the roads. 'Dangerous'? You're all but certain to meet with more danger inside of a car than outside one — though if you get good at driving, you can keep yourself safer than if someone less trustworthy were to take the wheel.

As for cultural danger, it depends where you grew up and where you want to be. If you're a big coastal city type, you probably have nothing to worry about, although becoming a regular driver may provide some kind of countercultural frisson. Having been reared largely in Missouri, though, I will say that there are large swaths of the USA that are overwhelmingly best experienced from (your own) car: 'flyover country' is much more attractive when engaged with as drive-through country. Full disclosure, some of it sucks either way — but the Southwest, the South, and the Midwest all make their charms far more accessible to drivers than to any other form of traveler. (I have several times voyaged between Houston and St. Louis on overnight buses, which I would not recommend to anyone.) And if you want to live between the coasts, driving is generally indispensable.

In the end, though, the cultural risks are negligible, unless you know a lot of truckers. If you're still having misgivings, why not find a sympathetic friend with a car and ask them to give you a lesson or two?

Dear Hypocrite,

I need your advice on a sensitive ethical issue. I am an educator in a public university and one of my students is a young man who I suspect is a neo-fascist. He is associated with organizations who engage in fascist behavior. What should I do? I believe it is ok to punch a nazi but not to punch your student; the coincidence of the two offices in one individual has become a problem for me. Seems schizophrenic to be nice inside the classroom and stealthily punch him outside of it? Please help. I would appreciate advice on the ethical and tactical levels.

Ms. Confused

Dear Confused,

Navigating the workplace in a neoliberal age is schizophrenic at best, alas, and teaching in public universities no less so. Do not punch your student. Both politically and professionally, it's a bad call — not because physical violence against fascists is necessarily wrong (a question which deserves to be considered in a genre other than advice columnry), but because, in this case, it'd be a misuse of your authority. I find it's very difficult to "stealthily punch" anyone, and I certainly don't believe that sunlight is a viable disinfectant for fascism — but the classroom is an excellent environment for forcing views and ideological commitments which thrive on isolated, narcissistic brooding to actually articulate themselves, and recognize their limits, in specific response to other ideas, texts, and historical moments.

To put it bluntly: I'm not proposing that you try to bait your student into exposing himself as a fascist in class and then argue him down (which probably wouldn't work), nor that you call him out via Sorkinesque monologues (which definitely wouldn't work, and is idiotic). But especially if you teach some kind of humanistic discipline, I have no doubt that you can present your students with material — texts from the collective struggles of the past, for example — to which the social media-fueled fascism of today will have little or no response. A lot of people seem to come to the alt-right in search of an identity, or a means of provoking a reaction, by defining themselves in trollish opposition to highly contemporary sacred cows (political correctness, etc.) — in other words, if you're a member of one of these reactionary sectlets, it's much easier to decide how you're supposed to relate to Milo Yiannopoulos than it is to figure out how you're supposed to relate to (e.g.) class consciousness. The historical Nazis were murderous reactionaries, but like their German contemporaries, they were generally well-read; members of the alt-right, like their American contemporaries, generally aren't; their fascism arises from a frame of reference so overwhelmingly and exclusively contemporary that it's hard to see how it could withstand de- or re-contextualization, especially if the challenge isn't signposted in terms they recognize (like, say, 'diversity'). (Dedicated ideologues like Richard Spencer are another matter, but for the sake of argument, I'm assuming that your student is effectively a nineteen-year-old.)

I advise you to use the classroom, especially the syllabus, to get him to confront how limited his ideology actually is. It may not convince him to give up neo-fascism in a semester, but it'll be a start.