I cut my teeth as a structural ironworker, but I love literature and philosophy.
Standing on a steel I-beam 40 stories above the streets of San Francisco with a load of iron swinging over my head taught me about what was important. When I was ironworking, I read a book by a “Longshoreman Philosopher” that worked on the docks of the nearby Embarcadero until he was 65 years old.
The Feb. 24 issue of the Federal Way Mirror contained an article by school Superintendent Tom Murphy titled “An argument over what J.D. Salinger meant.” Murphy’s article is quite literary and philosophical, replete with a reference to the recently deceased Salinger’s novellas. Most baby boomers remember Salinger for “Catcher in the Rye” — required reading when we were coming of age.
I also appreciate literature, and I cannot resist commenting on the passing of an important literary figure like J.D. Salinger. As a youth with a penchant for Aldous Huxley novels and Eric Hoffer, I pondered the existential significance of Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Salinger’s 1951 tour de force. I identified with Caulfield’s angst, learned to despise my betters (and any kind of worthwhile accomplishment) and habitually used the “F” word at least once in most of my sentences.
Now don’t jump to the conclusion that I am about to accuse Salinger of corrupting American youth! Modernistic mayhem was being perpetrated on American culture long before and after Salinger’s callow anti-hero slouched around the American literary scene looking for an identity. The New York-Parisian literary mafia regaled us with perversion, blasphemous Gonzo-journalistic drug trips and suicidal ideations unknown to all but the most pagan of ancient mystery-cults. Such authors were not regular reading in the schools prior to “Catcher in the Rye,” but nevertheless….
In 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, stating that:
“I must study politics and war so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
Imagine Holden Caulfield disarming a crazed gunman. Remember the 52-year-old teacher that stopped a school shooting near Columbine, Colo., earlier this year? Discussing whether that teacher should have been trained and armed makes more sense than studying Shakespeare (or rap lyrics) when you have jihad chat rooms abuzz with strategies for invading schools.
Isn’t it about time to start discussing how to protect the kids in our schools? Right now all that stands between the kids and mayhem are good intentions. John Adams’ reference to “politics” wasn’t in reference to the mud wrestling for power that characterizes today’s political spectacle. He meant the art of getting people to work toward mutual self-interest. Let’s study politics and war again. True believers will sanctimoniously sneer at proposals to arm volunteers; maybe they had Holden Caulfield as their role model?