On Bourdain, David Perry, Bob Akers, and Lloyd and Bessie Mae Presley

Anthony Bourdain goes to West Africa for the food, comes back singing about electronics geeks and wizards
Let me present the ontological argument for inclusivity - including inclusivity of people who appear to strongly disagree with your beliefs.  I've learned not to be angry, or afraid, of people who are wrong.  Not being afraid, being brave about things like patriotism and cultural appropriation, and finding commonalities and strengths to emulate in your adversaries, is just good practice.

"Mass communication has brung us all within earshot (and memes) of people who strongly disagree with what we grew up believing. Some people are frightened and threatened by that. Those people (right or left) are pretty similar in my experience (my family's from Taney County Mo, I went to Carleton and my kid's at Middlebury). There must be a better word than snowflake, but it's a short step from fear to intolerance."

This is a comment I just left on an interesting article on "PC" culture on liberal campuses compared to "Faith and Patriotism" core values (and mandatory courses) on Christian universities (ran across David M. Perry's  "Why Do Christian Schools Get a Pass in Conversations about Academic Freedom".  And (screenshot below) he responded by Twitter before I got far along in today's blog.

The original topic I was searching Twitter for is references to the Ozarks, which I've been thinking about again lately.  Not just because we are preparing our annual family holiday gathering on the Missouri Arkansas line, and not just because of my fascination or obsession with the parallels between Agbogbloshie and Branson.

At the conference in New Orleans, I was politely greeted by Bob Akers, the new Executive Director of E-Stewards.  He ran the Surplus Exchange in Kansas City, which I visited about 15 years ago.  Great organization, and it managed to earn E-Stewards Certification in a reuse context... similar to Fair Trade Recyclers earning R2 certification.

And he's the only person I will meet this year, outside of the family, who will recognize 2017 as the 50th Anniversary of the Presley Family Jubilee... and what that meant to culture and industry in Branson, Missouri.  It was sometimes debated whether Lloyd and Bessie Mae Presley were truly locals (she was from Oklahoma, they moved from Springfield MO to Branson in 1967 to open the theater) but they were quickly looked on as 100% local as more and more Andy Williams, Dolly Parton, Wayne Newtons and Acrobats of China shows followed them there.

Lloyd Presley was - before becoming a country musician who used hillbilly stereotype costumes for comic effect - a Pentacostal Preacher, exactly the type to donate money to College of the Ozarks, and to recommend the type of patriotic "Christ-like" education David M. Perry objects to.

And Bob Akers might follow me when I say that the left-right tension between liberal arts professors (like those I met at Carleton and married to stay at Middlebury), if you squint just right, sounds a lot like the religious tensions in "Sodom and Gomorrah" (the AMA's label for the majority Muslim slum of Agbogbloshie). Maybe.

Being able to see similarities and commonalities and roots in wildly divergent places is what I do.  The less obvious, the more fascinating.  But many people just cannot see them, cannot see that the "safe place" culture objecting to "cultural appropriation", making my son afraid to wear the African shirt I bought him in Tamale on the Middlebury College campus, sounds an awful lot to some people like the pro gun, pro Christ, pro American Flag talk at College of the Ozarks.

It's all driven out of insecurity, and a combination of "victimhood jujitsu" that's become a go to reaction to that insecurity.  Muslims from the far north of Ghana now live next door to Bantu Christians (with their hundreds of Pentecostal Churches in Accra).  For the most part, it leads to better integration and commonality and cultural diversity.  But it does cause the opposite reaction of some people "in greater earshot", and that's the problem.  Boka Haram has virtually nothing in common with the geeks of Tamale, but labelling Old Fadama as "Sodom and Gomorrah" and bulldozing the shantytown in absence of any other housing is the same kind of overreaction.

David M. Perry kept replying (via twitter) that there was no ontological comparison between liberal arts colleges and College of the Ozarks' rightist reactions.  But as usually, he commits the "strawman fallacy" or "sampling error" by comparing people shrilly opposed to inclusion to people "promoting exchanges with other cultures".

I replied I know plenty of graduates of C of O who are liberal and have lived in other countries, and who - quietly - speak the same tolerance.  I do not believe that those who called my kid a racist for wearing an African shirt (because he's white) or scolded his (Pakistani) girlfriend for dating a whitie represent the best sample of liberal arts culture, or that the Middlebury protesters of Charles Murray represent the philosophical perspective of Platonic dialogue.  My point is that "reactions to hostile strange opinions" is a common human condition, and that if you dissect the peoples brains who call out "cultural appropriation" and those of the "Christian American Pledge", you probably find the same IQ and the same rationalizations.

I frequently hear that I'm more conservative than someone else because I'm able to hear the tolerant voices on the other side of a debate, and able to represent their best argument (rather than loudly meme their worst). But I doubt anyone can demonstrate that.  I just recycle. I find the argument that still works among the arguments that have been discarded based solely on their geographic origin. And as Socrates said, I'm as happy to learn my side is wrong about something in particular as I would be to have a thorn removed from my skin.  When Washington Post criticizes Middlebury College, that's healthy, too.

David M. Perry is right to hold evangelical colleges to the same standards of free speech. But measuring how many thorns each side has under their skin is hardly the math we care about.

So back to Bob Akers of E-Stewards.  Guess what? He's from Protem, Missouri, near lake Bull Shoals in the Ozarks.  That is basically the "next holler over" from Cedar Creek, where my mom's family (from Ridgedale) grew up.  We have hillbilly in common.   He'd know who Lloyd and Bessie Mae Presley were (and who they weren't).  And he may be able to hear my dog whisper, that Agbogbloshie's exoticism has to be turned into a value added attraction, and emphasis on geek skills and talents (like CNN Anthony Bourdain recognized in Lagos last month) are better representations of Africa than @PeterHolgate's absurd claims to have eyewitnessed thousands of African melting circuit boards over fires in Agbogbloshie.

Bob ran a surplus property exchange in Missouri.

I'm optimistic that Bob would understand my defense of the 'insecurity factor' in both Politically Correct "safe space" and Antifah-defending colleges - something David Perry reacted against vs. yours truly on Twitter.

To be fair, this doesn't show my replies between, but those are available online, and basically are just trying to explain my thesis, at the top of this blog (the comment I left on his article) that he's responding to.

My thesis is that Mass Communications (internet, media, social media, etc) has brought us all in far closer earshot to opposing points of view - and the louder and more shrill the opposing view, the more "in earshot" it seems.

I know kind and tolerant people who attended College of the Ozarks (formerly School of, or "S of O"), and ran across the article searching for references in my quest to show the bizarre parallels between the Christians of Taney County and the Dagomba and Hausa Muslims of Agbogbloshie.  They are both minorities on the opposite end of a "hillbilly highway".

In Branson Missouri, the "otherization" and "exoticification" of Ozarks Hillbilly culture in Hollywood and in yellow journalism eventually became an industry.  If enough "Beverley Hillbillies" tourists wanted to pay to have their picher taken beside a toothless, overalls-wearing hayseed, the Presley Family Jamboree was there to provide it, in exchange for tourist dollars.  

In conclusion, as a child I listened to grumbling about the performers who penciled their teeth and dressed up like Snuffy Smiths and Lil' Abners to put on the show for the Chicago and St. Louis tourists.  And it sounded a lot like the grumbling I hear in Africa's Tech Sector about the Gaze on Agbogbloshie.  As a college student I learned the risk of questioning the beliefs of your peers, that Socratic Method was often heard as a threat to certain people.  As a Peace Corps volunteer, I put both of these to (re)use.

At my urging, my kid at Middlebury College went to apprentice under a Ghana TV repairman in Tamale for 6 weeks last summer, along with another "fair trade recycling ambassador" from University of Florida.  Another African shirt was presented to him as a gift, and lost by Thomas Cook Airlines (don't get me started) along with his GoPro and all his luggage.  He expressed to me the "silver lining" that he wouldn't have to take guff for cultural appropriation if he wore the shirt, or feel guilt if he didn't (something I totally get).

He spent most evenings playing cards with another Ghana apprentice, who he said he tried to explain, over many evenings, what "cultural appropriation" at liberal arts colleges meant.  He said after many evenings, his friend finally said "I see, now I finally understand why they might object to you wearing our African shirt."  Followed simply by, "They are wrong."

Sometimes people are just wrong.  Being compassionate about the fears or beliefs they have isn't tolerating oppression to someone else.  Sometimes, people are wrong.  As a recycler, we need to find the added value of the opinions others hold that still have value, and to discard those that don't.  Trying to contaminate your opponent's best arguments by focusing on their worst bad management.

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