Rules for Radicals: Working within The System
“It seems to me that utilizing the “Spartan” technique would be motivated by _not_ mastering the subject, and _not_ having enthusiasm. Otherwise why use a model so restrictive?
I think you actually mentioned somewhere in your Spartan essay that using your formula would ensure safety from the teacher marking you down for not adhering to the prompt. Is that really worth sacrificing your creative liberty? I guess it would be for some one who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and doesn’t really care.
I got this comment about the paper format and it is something that I encounter pretty often. This attitude is more than just about the paper–it’s just the wrong way to look at life. It is the scourge of people who look to make change and the refuge of people who like talking more than doing.
Of course my format has some limitations. Welcome to the real fucking world. Compromise, give and take–it’s called strategy. You figure out what you want and then your figure out the best means of getting there. Are essays a relatively stupid way of judging comprehension? Sure. But they exist and you’re 17, so deal with it (likewise to whatever you’re doing). So they key is to find the best way to accomplish what you’d like to accomplish or to say what you want to do say in a manner that doesn’t involve needless punishment or prima facie dismissal. That’s not selling out–it’s called being a man.
As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it as, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be–it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.
Alinsky, Saul D.
There is a difference between something being restrictive and being simple. The paper format is simple. True mastery becomes simplicity–it becomes intuitive. If you can’t explain your point simply, basically and straight-forwardly then you haven’t mastered it. I was observing a conversation a few weeks ago between someone who was a supposed expert and a lay person. The expert was using all these buzzwords and complicated language and the other person asked him to explain because he was confused. And in response, the expert got even more technical and complex. To me, this was proof that the guy had absolutely no clue what he was talking about, because if you can’t be utterly simple then you don’t have a true understanding. The goal is to find the most basic, most approachable way of delivering your message and then to ram it through until it stops working. Sure, a two intro paragraph-rambling-Bob Dylan quoting paper is more artistic and creative but it just doesn’t do the job. And if it doesn’t do the job then you’re just pleasuring yourself. As Frank Luntz would say “it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.”
This in turn facilitates passion. If you cut the time you have to spend on aesthetics, then you increase the time you can spend on content–on the message. Which should always be your goal. The less effort you need to exert screaming to get people to listen is effort that can be spent doing what Cicero wanted: Mastering the subject. With a paper it’s the same, the format allows you to dedicate yourself to thinking and then the thoughts write themselves. And that’s how it should be when you try to change a system: What is your ROI? If it’s not working, try something else.
Lastly, prompts are almost always stupid. And so are the rules within any system. They have to be. The last thing a teacher wants is 40 kids writing about whatever the fuck they want. The incumbents look to minimize effort on their part. So a prompt is designed to create similar, obvious answers. So are rules, traditions and customs. The format allows you to get the grade but ACTUALLY be creative. That’s the beauty of it. When you redefine and the continually codify through the Spartan square, you get away with being creative. People hate outliers and in this case, you are disguising an outlier as rule-abider. This is always the key to my strategy: How do I get away with being innovative but still look ordinary?
A true radical has to work within the system. If it is a system worth destroying, it is a powerful one. And the way to destroy a powerful enemy is to use it’s own strength against it. I talked last week about challenging the way things are and have been, but you must do it intelligently. If wearing whatever I wanted to work prevented me from being effective, I would stop. And so should you.
There are people out there whether it be in Hollywood or Wall Street or your 8th grade classroom that have already made their bones and their money. They don’t want you to succeed. If you announce your intentions or your flagrantly flaunt a disregard for the “way of doing things” they’ll spend their time sabotaging you instead of competing. People are shocked when revolutionaries or cult figures are killed–what did you expect? Power is power is power. People disappear every fucking day. There is nothing noble about taking some ludicrous stand on something you have no possibility of coming through on.
Plenty of people, especially young people, talk about radical change but don’t have the balls to do. And real balls isn’t living a utopia where words are enough and everyone listens to your objections–it’s getting up everyday pushing the discussion where you want it to go, of trying a 100 things for every 10 successes, of protecting what’s truly important over what is just ego, and realizing how pathetic and cowardly martyrs really are. So take stands on the hills you’re willing to die on and save the rest for the immolators.
That is where the paper format finds it’s roots.
Well said. Looking back at my initial comment it seems somewhat antagonistic, and I apologize for that.
I still maintain that in the classroom its sometimes more important to identify an aspect of the material that you are truly passionate about and form the prompt to incorporate and centralize that passion. I’ve found that this does not sacrifice the grade but can even serve to improve it, as it often turns out to be more satisfying for the student to research and spend time on, which proves more satisfying for the professor to read and grade.
“This attitude is more than just about the paper–it’s just the wrong way to look at life. It is the scourge of people who look to make change and the refuge of people who like talking more than doing.”
Fair enough. In a lot of ways I am more of a talker than a doer at this point, at least in comparison to you. However, in this case I was in fact talking about something that I don’t just talk about, I do. I wonder though, if the fact that you took our discussion and generalized it into some sort of broader argument may be a familiar refuge for you – you know your accomplishments and “actions” outshine just about anybody who is going to criticize your ideas, and by reframing the discussion on these familiar grounds you can assure “victory”. Sometimes it’s not about winning or losing, and I think my initial comment may have set us off on the wrong foot.
Back to the original discussion, (and I don’t have a whole lot of basis for thi), I think part of our disagreement is a result of our conflicting views of the role of traditional education. I’ve been trying to incorporate my real interests into the subjects I study, and it seems like you may consider school as a whole just a procession of “stupid prompts”. Also, when I’ve been talking about ‘papers’ and ‘prompts’ I’ve been thinking of ‘history papers’ and ‘history prompts’, which is something I probably should have clarified beforehand – English and History papers are two very different animals.
Even if this is the last I get out of it, I’ve appreciated the discussion, so thanks. I also apologize if this is a little rambling – I’ve only got a few minutes between classes, but I want to keep the discussion going.
Ryan, this is my personal favorite of yours since the very first one–I love the logic. I use a different perspective though.
“There is nothing noble about taking some ludicrous stand on something you have no possibility of coming through on”.
And then there’s the inherent worthwhileness of going all the way with what you think is right and most true, despite all common sense and what every other person thinks.
Recall “If” by Rudyard Kipling:
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too”
If you stop what is evolving your thinking because of what other people (all authority figures, especially) tell you because they see “an inherent flaw” in your thinking, when it is in fact brainstorming/holistic thinking in a creative effort attempt, then you simply aren’t mature enough or haven’t made the decision of what matters to you: marks/money/job security or creative expression (which, btw, logically leads to more of the later two in the long run)?
Unless you are aiming for a scholarship of some type, you could do as I do and deliberately tell the teacher “I’m planning to become a writer, and will add in creative measures into my work to increase my knowledge and express myself to have more fun, is that okay?”–> and then state literally on the paper how inherently worthless University education has been for me and STILL GET 90% on it, lol.
I did that and am getting 87% in a course right now, ignoring rules I consider not worth my effort such as APA format for referencing and other miscellaneous rules (worth a trivial amount of marks). You have to decide what is worth more to you.
Ryan is writing from a perspective that shows that marks is important; I just showed you how it works when you are willing to take the risk to simply be yourself throughout your essays/assignments–if I get an 85% or a 70% or a 60% what do I care? I don’t–it’s more valuable to me that I can develop my ability to write creatively. And from what I read from you, you seem to be the same way. Take what you like from whomever but ultimately follow your own inuition.
But Art, if you’re going to set your own terms absolutely why not enroll in a creative writing program, or some sort of writer’s workshop? If the University as a mode of education has really been “inherently worthless” for you, then you probably need to re-examine why you’re there at all.
Because unfortunately, that is not life. Often times to get what you want you have to wade through or wait through things you do not want. Degrees are important (not the most important, but still important) and there is some bullshit that comes along with those benefits. Once you’ve weighed the costs and benefits and decided to pursue, the key is to find the most efficient means of going through it.
Essays are annoying and so was Driver’s Ed, but I am not going to drop out of 11th Grade or swear off getting my license.
Of all the things I’ve read on Rudius message boards and sites, that essay has done the best job for me of summarizing what it means to want to start a revolution of yourself. You pinpointed where the difference between someone who talks and someone who acts is most important: when they start to learn from the thing they want to rise above.
“A true radical has to work within the system. If it is a system worth destroying, it is a powerful one. And the way to destroy a powerful enemy is to use it’s own strength against it.”
Really poignant stuff, man. Your blog is a very accessible place to learn what defining yourself really means.
“Essays are annoying … the key is to find the most efficient means of going through it.”
Essays don’t have to be annoying. There is a field of study available at most universities for anyone who is willing to actually identify their interests and engage in their education. If the essays you are assigned are just inherently a chore then you are probably in the wrong field of study.
I ran into this animation by the creators of South Park a few days ago that reminds me of this discussion (from my perspective, obviously):
“In music one doesn’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest.”
Oh, that was actually part of the creative writing, University has actually done quite a lot for me (forced me to develop my writing ability, leadership and speaking ability, hating it enough to develop the inner NECESSITY to find my passion) etc etc.
That said, if I get that “opportunity” (ala Ryan’s big decision) to blow my way out of here towards my passion, I wouldn’t skip a beat to do so.
This paper is another way a 17 year old can be a radical:
But I must admit that aside from the analogy to the Spartan square, which is cool, the paper format doesn’t strike me as much different than the standard paper format one would find in any basic english textbook: present a thesis, give supporting arguments, and a conclusion.
Am I missing something?
I guess it’s my fault then. I must have missed you mentioning that you were writing exclusively for kids 17 and under.
I was trying to make an argument for students to actually do more than just the minimum – the “standard one would find in any” classroom.
I guess now I know where to turn for a “cool” variation on the “standard”.
How old are you? You’re displaying the classics signs of someone who is looking to fight every single battle they can–when with a little maturity and perspective they would realize that it’s better to focus on the battles that matter.
Here’s the thing, at some point, you will run into an enemy that is too entrenched, too traditional and has to too much leverage on you and you will have to do things their way. At least, for a little while until you find away around it. If you’ve never bother to learn how to do that, how to trade space for time, you will be utterly fucked.
Ever heard the saying “never let schooling get in the way of your education”? Essays are schooling. They just are not worth defying. It’s not about changing subjects until you find a place where you like writing essays but understanding that generally, all essays are stupid and your time is better spent elsewhere (you know like in researching, reading, discussing, debating, free writing, attempting to solve problems, trying new things, meeting people, learning from the masters, beating your head against a wall etc)
You think I don’t know this from experience? Doing the best you can on something you shouldn’t be doing is not noble, it’s stupid. The paper format is a way for you to succeed within the system but not buy into it. Buying into it is suicide and so is outwardly rebelling against it–but using the system against itself is a way to negotiate while advancing.
Look man, as far as I can tell the only thing we fundamentally disagree on is the value of conventional education. From your responses it seems like you consider the sole purpose of going to college getting a degree and learning how to “trade space for time”. Is that fair? Also, what exactly do you mean by “trade space for time”?
In my view, there’s actually a lot more available than a piece of paper and an ability to be aridly cerebral to appease authority. If I’m going to take a philosophy class I try to take the material the professor offers to me and identify what is valuable for me in my life instead of just going through the logical motions to ensure that I get high marks. If I’m taking an english class I’ll hope to inform my own experience with the author’s perspective, instead of just regurgitating the obvious answer so I can get full points. It’s not a question of either fighting a battle or retreating to fight another day – the world doesn’t have to work that way. It’s about both fulfilling the requirements and making the experience something meaningful to me.
Yes, this may seem incredibly vague, but such is the difficulty of trying to communicate with inadequate symbols. What I’m trying to talk about is reorganizing your priorities in such a way that the purpose of education isn’t the “end of the composition,” the purpose is composing. And, to be honest, I thought that was the same perspective you were coming from. I figured you should be alerted that your Spartan formula needed some adjustment; it was inconsistent with Cicero! The further this discussion carries on, though, the more I begin to realize that I was probably reading a lot of your stuff through my own little prism of understanding. And hey, that’s fine too – who am I to criticize something I obviously don’t fully understand anyway. At this point I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from.
As a side note, I just turned 21, and I’ve never been engaged in any sort of “battle” with any of my professors. Also, I haven’t scored below a 93 on any paper since I started actually caring about my education a year or so ago – this doesn’t give me any authority, I just say this to clarify the fact that I’m not sacrificing anything grade-wise by doing the things I’ve been talking about.
i hate my life