In the first in a series about our changing American society, Michelange interviews a polite lawful killer driving a bus.
Being 65 and in a doctoral program in a large university is a strange experience that I know well, so I’ll write a lot about higher learning in this space over time. This is my first excursion for Quiet Mike (thank you QM and Erin).
Progressive education is my primary raison d’être for coming here. OK, actually, radical learning is my purpose. But I digress.
First, let’s consider a few largely unrealized, inter-generational, societal changes in the USA that underlie our national predicament – including both our educational system and, more importantly, our cradle-to-grave learning.
This will lead us to the relatively unknown fact of our exponentially expanding capacities in the early 21st century for unschooled, personal learning versus 12-to-16 years’ of institutional butt-time. More on that in later blogs.
Many aspects of dealing with young university-going Generation-Xs and Millennials – ever more Strangers in A Strange Land – illustrate many of the contemporary changes in USAmerican society. (Convention: I use “USAmerica” instead of “America” because the USA is far from the only America.)
Some years ago, I boarded an empty cross-campus bus, swapping the inevitable Southern “heys” with the driver. He appeared to be a Gen-Xer – i.e., a young ‘un born sometime between the early 60s and early 80s – when Millennials then took up haunting the premises and not just on Halloween.
I had a long trip to the lie-berry, so I struck up a conversation. The Driver responded to my every comment with some version of, “Sir.” Yes Sir, no Sir, Sir? “Sir“ was clearly capitalized in perpetuity by this thirty-ish soldier who was currently matriculating instead of “serving.” Turns out, he was off active duty at the moment but still in the U.S. Army.
That semester, I saw The Driver – “hey, Sir!” – a couple of times every week due to our congruent schedules. I’m a former executive recruiter. Give me several minutes for questions, and I’ll know more about you than you might believe.
The Driver was trim, in-shape, and looked as if could handle himself well in a violent mano-á-mano. He was low-key, patient with crazy drivers, rude passengers, and a recalcitrant old mini-bus. He was so unusually polite and courteous that his manners seemed out-of-place, perhaps from a different universe. Like Ft. Bragg.
He had an equally understated sense-of-humor; he never burst out laughing. Even his biggest laugh seemed to be no more than a generous chuckle and a wide smile. Controlled. Rationed. Purposeful.
More accurately, he was a trained, experienced, expert sniper in the U.S. Army and, perhaps, a special forces Superman, like Kurt Russell in the sci-fi art film, Soldier.
He replied openly to most of my questions, implying that he had killed more than one human being. How many? “I’m sorry, Sir, but I can’t tell you that.” I think he could have but just didn’t want to re-load ammunition into my semi-automatic interrogation.
On-leave and off-rotation, he was decompressing, getting his mind off combat – murder? – and, so, spending the semester back in school, working a little more slowly than the norm toward the university degree and possibly getting laid more than the norm, too.
His double majors were in business administration and sociology. Efficiency, effectiveness, groups large and small. I recall being surprised at his not pursuing a third, simultaneous major in psychology – if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Maybe he didn’t want to make a career of it.
The Sniper would soon be on his way to a new assignment that required his particular brand of eye-hands-weapon coordination. But, with no other passengers that day, my interrogative curiosity wouldn’t relent.
Me: Where will you be deployed?
Him: I’m sorry, Sir. I can only say that it’s a foreign country, Sir.
Him: Ummm, let’s say conflict, Sir.
Me: Are you afraid?
Him: No, Sir.
Me: Are you worried?
Him: (chuckle) No, Sir.
Me: Is your family worried?
Him: (full quasi-laugh) No, Sir.
Me: Why not?
Him: I know what I’m doing, Sir. I’ve done it a long time. I grew up with guns. I’m good
with them, Sir.
Me: What will you do there?
Him: Well, Sir, I expect that I will operate as a sniper behind the lines, Sir.
Me: You’ll kill people?
Him: I can’t really say, Sir, but that’s always a possibility.
Me: Do you look forward to that?
Him: No, Sir.
Me: Then, why would you end another man’s life? They are men, aren’t they? Have you ever killed children or women?
Him: Not unless they were combatants, but, no Sir, I never have. I do this work, Sir, because my country needs my skills that the Army discovered I possessed.
Me: How good are you?
Him: Pretty good, Sir (wide grin in the rear-view mirror).
Me: How good?
Him: Well, Sir, I consistently hit very small targets at the operating limits of my weapon.
Me: What are the operating limits of your weapon?
Him: I really can’t say, Sir, but I can say that I consistently maintain high accuracy at well over a mile in a stiff wind and low-light, against a moving target from a concealed position.
Me: Jesus. How many men have you killed?
Him: I can’t say, Sir.
Him: No, Sir.
He was clearly an unusual young man, regardless of one’s attitudes towards military, war, empire, etc. (Full disclosure: I am epistemologically opposed to all but critically needed defense.)
The killer/driver is unusual in any absolute evaluation of his performance capacities and the core values under which he operates. For the purpose of this blog, he is also unusual – assuming that he is still alive – in relative comparison to his classmates, of any age, class, or gender.
Attached to his weapon, The Killer is a highly efficient, murderous (murderous?) cyborg. He kills for a living using non-human, post-human, trans-human – the academic definitions still vary considerably – means.
As a human being, not cyborg, The Driver possesses an unusual combination of older, traditional military and patriotic family/community values plus more contemporary student and business-man-in training values.
Although I believe that it is uncommon to find this complex combination in one individual today, similar attitudes clearly and widely exist in a sociological segmentation of USAmerican society. We have Student-Drivers. We have Killer-Snipers.
Unfortunately, the twain often meet off the battlefield – in schools, post offices, fast food restaurants, town centers, and so on.
The USA has experienced a profound societal paradigm-shift in recent decades. Some attribute this big shift to computers, the Web, Hip-Hop, and ever-deteriorating family values. That’s not what the evidence empirically demonstrates.
Societal changes cause social behaviors to mutate and morph, not the other way around. When I was a young man, my parents’ generation thought that Rock-n-Roll, drivers’ licenses, and promiscuous teenagers were among the causes of The Decline of Life As We Know It.
This post is the first of three of my introductory series on USAmerican societal changes and how they have caused USA learning to jump to light-speed. My second and third parts of this series are roughly drafted – tanned, rested, and lying in wait for you.
However, I would welcome your feedback to this first blog post so that I can more closely tailor the remainder of the series to your thoughts, questions, and interests. Please comment below if you are so moved to give feedback.