I believe in discrimination. No, I am not a racist, homophobe, or any one of a dozen other bumper sticker fear-labels. I am something much worse; I am a thinker. The discrimination I am talking about has to do with clear thinking and what Seneca referred to as “right reason.” I was taught these things by the tutor I had in high school – John Gunnar Carlander.
Jack was a graduate of the University of Chicago. After several conferences with my parents, Jack managed to persuade them that I possessed sufficient intelligence to benefit from his tutelage. Thus redeemed from the rural malaise of public education, we engaged in a course of study which ripened into a lifelong friendship.
I was taught that a young gentleman sits with spine straight and shoulders back, actually listens when addressed, in the hope that productive conversation might ensue. I learned that one leads by example – always, and to point my toes forward when walking. I learned the elements of classical drawing, painting, some of the subtler aspects of music composition, and how to critique my own literary efforts and to be their harshest critic.
In philosophy, we studied the strength inherent in clearly verbalized and well balanced concepts. I learned how to think before we began reading deeply. We enjoyed the spirited etiquette of debate and the theatre of informal conversation. “Small talk,” Jack always cautioned, “is the compost of small ideas.” He believed that all educational disciplines should be united under the rubric of ‘a science of humankind.’
His passionate engagement with human liberty and his unabashed hatred of self-righteousness and social cowardice are goals I still aspire to.
One day in 1972, Jack died of a heart attack while crossing the quad at Illinois State University in Bloomington. I remember coming home that afternoon and hearing my grandmother say, “Jack’s gone.” I don’t remember much more about it. He didn’t believe in heaven or ceremony so I didn’t attend the funeral. He wanted a Viking funeral and didn’t get it. I think he would have appreciated my protest. We didn’t agree on everything and history has proved him wrong more than once as it has me over the intervening years. But he believed that being right or wrong was less important to an honorable life than being fully engaged. He would raise a finger to my nose and say, “Only those who play ever learn the privilege of losing.” It took me a long time to grow into the wisdom of that statement.
Something he didn’t tell me about was that often the voids in your life grow with time instead of fading into the past. The longer I live, the more I miss him. I feel certain Jack Carlander understood that, but some things you only learn by losing.
In a world where complexity is often high-jacked by mediocrity and measured discourse smothered in a bulky fundamentalism, I’m thankful for the book of discrimination Jack Carlander taught from.
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