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Harnessing Contempt

(Below: The Eutolmiatopian Manifesto.)

There is an article in the February 7, 2005 issue of New York magazine named "The Harvey Milk School Has No Right to Exist. Discuss."

OK, go.

The Harvey Milk School is the now famous "gay high school" here in New York City. It's located near Astor Place in that middle-village-land between Greenwich Village and what used to be called the lower east side (now, East Village). It grew out of the "Hetrick-Martin Institute [HMI], a social-services agency that for 25 years has been ministering to 'at risk' gay teens".

“A majority of our kids are what we call Title I, poverty level,” says Thomas Krever, associate executive director of programs at HMI. “About 20 percent qualify as homeless, or living with someone other than their immediate parent or guardian. They are very academically challenged. The way they see it, high-school graduation isn’t really something in their future.” But Harvey Milk’s mission is not simply to fill gaps in the students’ education; it is also to help them in the process of coming to grips with their sexuality, and the emotional trauma associated with it. “These kids are volatile, aggressive, hostile, as a way to protect themselves,” says Maria Paradiso, HMI’s director of supportive services. “They’ve been harassed and bullied and beaten up so often, they have a thick armor. We’re trying to teach them how to manage difficult emotions, how to be confident about who they are. We help them with coming-out issues, and the struggle of gender identity.”

The city's regular high schools can't or won't protect these kids, so this Harvey Milk School sounds like a reasonable option, right? I mean, assuming you even give one crap about these kids, of course.

But wait.

In August 2003, Democratic state senator Ruben Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister from the Bronx, sued the city over the Harvey Milk High School. Diaz’s stated reason was the injustice of the city’s devoting millions of dollars to a school servicing just 100 students—“with all kind of high-technology equipment, air conditioning, the best teachers”-- when so many other city schools, like those in his district, were in deep crisis. “Teachers take money from their own pockets to buy equipment,” Diaz says of his Bronx schools, “because they don’t provide the teachers with the equipment -- no books, no pencils, there’s nothing for the students. You are leaving some kids behind.”

It's a reasonable point. But hang on a second, there's more.

In the summer of 2003, the Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based nonprofit litigation group inspired by Evangelical causes, offered to back Diaz’s suit against the city. The Liberty Counsel is also contesting some 30 same-sex-marriage cases across the country. Its leader and founder, Mathew Staver, has called Harvey Milk a “school dedicated solely to those engaged in abnormal sexual practices.” Rena Lindevaldsen, an attorney in the case, says of homosexuality, “I do believe that it’s not a right relationship” since “it’s not what God designed.” But if the Liberty Counsel’s objections to the school are based on a narrow interpretation of Scripture, the legal brief they filed on behalf of Diaz is shrewdly grounded in legal argument. The suit charges not only that Mayor Bloomberg, the Department of Education, and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are guilty of wasting city funds at a time of severe budget distress, but it also uses a clever act of legal jujitsu to charge that the Harvey Milk school is illegal since the Department of Education’s own regulations prohibit discrimination in school admissions on the basis of sexual orientation.

And it isn't just Diaz and the Liberty Counsel. It turns out that a number of gay-activists feel the Harvey Milk School is a bad idea.

Indeed, one strong advocate for both gay rights and public education has emerged as a salient critic of the school. Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, says that Harvey Milk, by segregating homosexuals from their straight peers, promotes the return to a “separate but equal” educational system uncomfortably reminiscent of one of the most shameful episodes in American history, when black students were placed in separate schools from their white peers—supposedly for their own good. “I have a long history of supporting gay rights,” Turley says. “One can have great sympathy for the motivation behind this school but question the means used to achieve noble ends. I was flabbergasted that leaders in the gay community embraced this concept, an act of self-exile from the school system, to self-isolation. It was just unbelievable to me.”

All right, so that's the general shape of the question. There are other nuances, but that's pretty much it. The suit by Diaz and the Liberty Counsel is awaiting a decision so while we're sitting outside Judge's Chambers waiting for the word to come down, let's just decide for ourselves what we think about all this, shall we?

I walk to work and it happens that my usual route carries me past Astor Place everyday. I often see these kids hanging around outside the building that houses Harvey Milk and, just from my observation and from what I've read, these kids are not just throw-away kids, they are way-throw-away kids. It would be one thing if Diaz and the Liberty Counsel actually gave a crap about them. I mean, you know, really gave a crap about them instead of just telling them to get religion or something. But you know precisely what will happen if they win their suit and close down Harvey Milk. Will they put that same amount of time and effort and money into getting the system to protect these kids? Will they strive to not just mouth the words of tolerance, but actually take steps that will make the reality of these kids lives in the New York Public School System actually survivable?

Don't make me laugh.

It's incomprehensible to me how this country can present itself to the world as a land that celebrates freedom. It claims to honor innovation and the marketplace of ideas. We like gumption! We live on the frontier! Which is all true in one sense, of course. As long as you are talking about consumer products. The marketplace of ideas is great as long as your ideas are respectable. We love those mavericks, but, you know, just don't be odd, or a weirdo, or too eccentric. No weirdoes allowed.

I suppose the charitable interpretation of all this is that we are torn between our attraction for the new and our fear of it. Okay. That's not so remarkable, I guess. If you want to look at it that way.

The less charitable way to look at it is to admit that we are frauds, at least in those aspects of our culture that do not concern consumer products. We like the newest and best T.V. as a device and we like a sprinkling of the safely new in what actually comes to us through that snazzy newest and best T.V., but you know, don't scare us too much with any of that weird or oddball or eccentric stuff.

I wish I lived in a culture that was not afraid of the odd. Think what the marketplace of ideas would be like then, eh? What would the world be like if weirdoes were not beaten into submission before they had a chance to actually shock us with an idea for something truly original, remarkable, and useful. It's true that some originality survives in spite of our penchant for stifling it, but I wonder sometimes where we would be now if things had gone differently for us -- if we weren't, as a culture, so frightened of the odd.

These kids at Harvey Milk, nobody has to tell them they've been different all their lives. Think of the amount of energy they've expended on just surviving that "handicap". What if they'd just been left alone, left to mind their own business that whole time? Their take on our culture is nowhere near what most of the kids their age think about what we were all born into. I'm not saying somebody is an Einstein just by virtue of the fact that they were born different, but there's no denying that having a different take on a situation often leads to something original and exciting and new and useful. And I'm not saying, oh, think of where these kids would be if only they had been worshipped all those years for being different.

No, I'm just saying, I wonder where we would be today if weirdoes were simply left alone. Now that would be a free marketplace of ideas. Hell, we could be traveling the stars by now. And you can't say we wouldn't be doing that. You've never lived in a world where the genuinely odd was allowed.

And so I guess my position on this Harvey Milk School question is this: I think, as a theoretical concept, it is a bad idea to isolate gay kids from straight kids. I might even think that as a real-world thing it is a bad idea. After all, I like to see people "mix it up". I think that's good for people. Unfortunately, in this instance, "mixing it up" often means these kids getting pounded.

On societal considerations I think the Harvey Milk School should go away, but as a practical matter I'd like to see these kids get a shot at a decent education, maybe get into college, find a good job, maybe find some happiness and peace in their lives. But if Diaz and the Liberty Counsel win their suit, ain't none of that going to happen.


Maybe the best thing to do now is just redesign society. Something simple like that. If Harvey Milk closes, we know these kids will be sent back into an intolerable  situation. We know there will be noises made about teaching tolerance (if, you know, that isn't thrown out of the schools as being anti-American or something). But the problem is the lesson of tolerance obviously doesn't stick. It's not in our cowardly natures. If somebody is weird, then they have to be driven out of the tribe. I mean, come on, get a clue. Where were you when our instincts were handed out?

So let's skip all the Can't We All Just Get Along crap. Let's make use of the baser angels of our darkest natures. Let us harness our contempt for certain of our fellow human beings. Let's teach our young to mock and bully and harass those who are afraid of the weird. Let's stop wasting time trying to teach them how to tolerate diversity. Let's teach them how to torment the tormentors of the odd.

The Eutolmiatopian Manifesto

We are not encouraging diversity. We are not encouraging people to be themselves. We are not arguing that the quiet, the loud, the shy, the flamboyant, the religious, the profane, the outrageous, the normal, the gay, the straight, the blind, the deaf, the halt, the jocks, the goths and the punks should be either mocked or praised.

We are not saying those who bully and harass the odd should be sternly spoken to. We are not saying they should be retrained to be sensitive.  We are not saying they should be dipped in guilt. We are not saying that they should consult with their consciences and thereby make themselves into more tolerant people.

We are not saying that all weirdoes are of equal value to the tribe. Not all eccentricities will make the cut. Not all crackpots will be Einsteins. But the cowards will tell you a particular bizarroid is worthless before they actually know he is. The cowards pollute the idea pool. They say they believe in the free-market of ideas but they pursue a monopoly of the already known.

We are saying this -- the cowards must be mocked and bullied and harassed for fearing the odd.

We call not on the rulers of the schools to change the minds of the young, for we know they cannot do it. The rulers of the schools don't have the courage. No, we call upon the young to change themselves.

We call upon you, America's youth, to harness the power of your contempt. Use it to gut the world you've been handed. Lay it open and search there for truth. Those who are afraid of the weird will try to stop you. They will warn you against the interesting and the scary. Send the cowards away from you. Mock them. Shame them. They do not have your courage in the face of the odd, and so send them away.

Do not celebrate diversity. Torment the tormentors of the odd, instead.

Arise, Eutolmiatopians! Go now into the land of the brave!

Either that or, you know, just mind your own beeswax when it comes to other people's quirks. Try having the guts to be a little different yourself sometime, why don't you? It might hurt a little at first, but you'll recover. Probably.

But, hey, what do I know? I'm just another crackpot.


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I wish I lived in a culture that was not afraid of the odd. Think what the marketplace of ideas would be like then, eh? What would the world be like if weirdoes were not beaten into submission before they had a chance to actually shock us with an idea for something truly original, remarkable, and useful. It's true that some originality survives in spite of our penchant for stifling it, but I wonder sometimes where we would be now if things had gone differently for us -- if we weren't, as a culture, so frightened of the odd.

This is one of the reasons I love science fiction fandom so much. Sure, it's as far from perfect as any other group of human beings, but they LOVE the odd, the weird, the new. Sometimes too much maybe, but hey, I'll take that.


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