Prisoners Of Our Own Device Part 1
Updated: Sep 17, 2022
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No part of my life is free from politics, which is why folks who want their paranormal/weird free from the concerns of everyday strife are really living in a lah lah land of their own device (cross pollinating oddly here with the song "Hotel California"—a song that seems more prescient every time I hear it).
And so it was: a couple days ago I absently clicked on an article that had been shared in one of my FB groups about the “real reason Americans oppose student loan forgiveness” and realized, in one of my more stunning recent episodes of déjà vu, that I had dreamt about reading this article almost two years ago, down to specific phrases and lines.
First, was the experience of déjà vu itself, the recognition and the “time stamp” that I often get with them (this is accompanied by a distinct memory of when I dreamt it), then there was a semi-visual download of additional information, too quickly for me to really process, but which did involve clear visuals and emotional overlays of which individuals and what issues will be involved.
Only after the download did I quickly check the date of the article to make sure it wasn’t an older reposted piece and then frantically go through my dream diaries to see if I’d recorded something about such a dream (not all déjà vu dreams are remembered upon my awakening to be recorded).
And that was it—and I was left with the dizzying aftermath of WTF was that about? And an odd buzzing sensation of fear, which is not something I’ve ever really had with these experiences before. The unpacking of that fear is what this blog is about.
Like about 13.5% of the population, I owe debt on student loans which enabled me to get my graduate degrees. I am in a minority of debtors who owe more than $40,000 and who have been paying on the loans for over twenty years.
The reason I owe so much is not because I borrowed so much, nor because I lived a profligate lifestyle as a student which is often claimed. I owe so much for four reasons:
1) I was an older student when I got my degrees and so could not depend on parents to assist me; this meant I had adult bills and that I also worked 1-2 jobs while I was in school (this included some teaching, but not always). For a time I did have to take out the maximum loans allowed in order to survive. For some reason people think that loans and grants totaling $10-12k a year is something an adult can live on.
2) During the time period I was in school (mainly 1990s) the price of tuition, especially graduate tuition simply blew up, even at places like KU. When I was getting my grants/loans, even as an undergraduate, the amount of loan money that was remaining to me after my tuition and books were paid for was about $1500 for an entire semester. Try living on that for 4-5 months. Do you really think I was partying then or acting elite? No, I was working my ass off, teaching or driving school buses or doing retail to pay rent, even in Kansas.
3) This is the most egregious, but true reason: 9/11. I specifically picked my graduate degree because it was in demand at the time. Jobs in the field, even in academia, were everywhere. I accelerated my progress through my PhD program because I’d been delayed in my MA program due to a brain injury I’d received by being electrocuted—it set me back six months. I was able to get an adjunct job almost instantly BEFORE graduation—this is how sought after my academic background was. And then, literally 3 months after I graduated, 9/11 happened and within 6 months the entire academic landscape had changed.
Positions for my degree that had already been funded, were scrapped as the true elites (individuals who are in upper level administrative positions—not teachers or professors), decided to return to or create the specialties of Islamic Studies and Terrorist Studies (as if they were the same of course). I cannot tell you how many jobs I applied for only to be told “We really like you and you would be perfect for us, but that position has been withdrawn and funding supplied to….etc.”
The fourth (4th) reason for my ongoing debt is the enormous amount of interest that is compounded quarterly, regardless of how much I pay, and is a direct result of Reagan’s decision to try to force the Federal Government to operate as a bank even as he helped to obliterate affordable higher education.
In the early 1980’s I went to Community College for a couple of years, taking out grants and loans each time because my mother couldn’t help with the bill and my father refused to. When I dropped out of school in 1982 in order to get my life together, I owed on that loan and, even on my meagre paychecks at the time, was able to pay it back in about three years because the government charged a very minimum interest on it, mostly for administrative fees.
Reagan’s Department of Education instituted policies that required the Federal Government loan program, which at that time was run mostly by Sallie Mae, or any other eventual entity that got into student loan lending, to begin charging interest that was close to what banks at the time might charge for a loan. Later on, Clinton consolidated this process even further, since it was what he inherited, which only made everything worse. History link here
At the same time, many universities and colleges began to reorganize themselves along more corporate lines, Provosts and Deans who had risen through the teaching ranks began to be replaced by business executives or folks with MBAs and the ranks of administration began to swell. Sure, some of those positions were needed, but I worked at one small state college that had literally 7 deans. 7. All of them drawing 6 figure salaries and they had their own "dean meetings."
This kind of situation was largely due to policies that, again, Reagan helped institute while he was governor of California which basically led to the wholesale destruction of cheap and often free higher education in many parts of the country. History link here
It’s no secret that Reagan and Nixon, for that matter, thought very little of educated people. However, whereas Nixon went after drugs (mostly blacks and POC and a few hippies in fact), Reagan decided to go after colleges, because, as one of his aides put it, educated people tend to fight back against injustice.
Obviously, all these high administrative salaries in the new university/college systems required more money, so, tuition started to go up, which meant that students needed to borrow more money. Eventually, schools began to depend on those student loans coming in because they provided ready cash flow from the government that they didn’t have to repay. Through student debt, universities and colleges were padding their budgets and using that money for, who knows? Sports? Salary increases? I really have no idea.
This continued until some reforms in the late 1990s and early 2000s began to address a few of these issues, but the essential problem remains unchanged. In the meantime, several tens of thousands of us have been caught in the middle, with literally no way to actually pay our loans back.
Due to the interest accrued, not my actual debt, not what I borrowed, but due to the interest, I now owe over twice what was originally loaned, despite having diligently paid on my debt for the last 20 years, including when I lost my job during the pandemic, including the last two years when I actually haven’t had to pay anything on it at all. I have paid every month, and yet I’m the one who’s accused of looking for a hand out.
My idea of student loan forgiveness is actually a request to forgive and cap only the interest itself. The Federal Government should never have been permitted to act as a bank in the first place because it’s not.
This is why we legally permit the Postal Service and Amtrak or even Medicare to run at loss or minimal profit. These are services which are good in and of themselves. Sure, we need to adjust to make sure the losses aren’t intractable, but the postal service (incidentally) is required in the Constitution, so we are required by law to make it work even if it is expensive.
My argument is simply, yes, let me pay back what I actually borrowed. In my present job I could probably do that in 4 years or so. The interest is not actual debt owed—it’s what the government is charging me—which is quite different. There is no other financial institution that is allowed to do to debtors what the Feds can do to you, no bank, no financial organ. For every other type of debt various kinds of bankruptcy and forgiveness are allowed, even required by law in certain instances. But not student debt.
As for the content of the article mentioned above/before, which most of you have probably at least glanced at by now, I agree with the author overall, i.e., that a current of anti-intellectualism runs through our country's soul, but for the sake of his argument, have to take it much further and deeper.
He traces American anti-intellectualism back to the Puritans, but its origins lie deep in Christianity, deep in the antipathy against braininess that one can find rampant in the writings of the Desert Father monastics and even finally in some of St Augustine’s writings (ironic of course, since Augustine was a brainy camp #1). Despite being Roman, Augustine makes some very anti-Roman arguments.
Augustine, in his Confessions, at the end of a very brainy life, concedes that none of his learning really satisfied him, and in fact, had led him into pointless forays (which is what he considers his flirtation with Manichaeism to have been—although, in the end the only faults he can find with it is that, for him, they have some bad ideas), and sexual addictions. In the end, he says, only Christ and celibacy stilled his restlessness.
So how familiar does this sound to us now? Aquinas later divided knowledge up into what I would call “pointless” and “good for salvation” knowledge, even though he makes it all sound smartly Aristotlean.
In City of God, Augustine even defends the very Roman activity of torturing a sinner to save their soul because the body is only a vessel, whereas the soul is what must return to God.
During the Reformation many Protestant movements adopted aspects of Augustine for purposes of both pastoral simplicity and as a protest against the ecclesiastical learning that had created, what had become, monastic houses of learning (irony of course) and wealth extraction from the masses (there’s always a money angle).
Of course, Puritans and German Pietists inherited a view that looked dimly on education for its own sake. Education was associated with the aristocracy and leisure. (Actually, the word school comes from the Greek word schole, which meant leisure, a tribute to the fact that working classes in Classical Greece had no time for it, proof to Aristotle that some men were more noble than others—the Greek educated ones for example).
In fact, this is why my father refused to help me with my own education, even though my goal was to be a teacher. It always seemed odd to me because I started out at the same Community College at which he was teaching, so he knew what the requirements were.
But now I know it was because I was female and because I liked science and philosophy, two of the disciplines that he regarded as most suspect. I was a nerd. I know because my brother got his BA in General Studies (whatever that is) and went on to become a medical doctor (although he owes lots of money too), and father helped him some.
It is true that I am what some might refer to as an intellectual. As a female I was supposed to be ashamed of it. Although my mother liked my curiosity, it also frightened her. My father attempted to disrupt my brain every time he could because I was (and am) completely smarter than he was. Not more talented necessarily, but smarter. When I graduated from high school, I was the only young woman to receive a science award in my class, and as I walked to the podium, I was heckled by some schoolmates.
I gave up a STEM career, which I would have preferred because I didn’t know if I could take the misogyny. My life has been one of intellectual regrets, and until very recently, attempting to dumb myself down. Even where I work now, I downplay the fact that I have more education than almost everyone I work with.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think that one must have an education to be smart or talented, or a good worker. It’s just that I am all those things, and have often been made to be ashamed of my smarts and education.
The author of the article talks about outrage without an object and how that’s connected to this anti-intellectualism. Then there’s this rhetoric about the “elite” whoever they are, an ‘’elite” that is referenced in the letter signed by 22 governors who complain that they don’t want to pay the debts of whoever fits into that category.
I can tell you who the elites are, as I’ve often worked right beside them without being a part of their world. They aren’t people like me who have struggled to pay my debt all my life. Most of us who owe any amount of student debt are not academics, we are teachers, cops, social workers, retail employees, secretaries, essentially middle-class workers.
If any of our loans are forgiven, it’s not like that debt will suddenly disappear from our own lives entirely. As middle-class workers we will be right beside those folks who didn’t go to school, still working and paying that debt off. The only difference is that debt will be spread out.
The forgiveness request is actually asking for assistance to pay these loans back because the government got itself (and us) into this mess by charging interest that was insupportable and by not policing how educational institutions used and abused this loan money. Students didn’t get themselves into this situation because we are slackers and lackeys. This is also why the loan programs themselves need to be redone entirely, something that Biden has avoided taking about.
In the same way that we all have to pay into Medicare and into even car insurance to keep the costs relatively low, the request for forgiveness is that everyone who can, assist those former students who have been put into their situations by government mismanagement and the overreach of educational institutions.
So, who are the elites? They are, among others the corporate owners who don’t want their taxes raised in the event that there’s any kind of income short fall. They are the politicians who have been purchased with that corporate money. These are often individuals who had their educations paid for in full by their families.
The very same people who are launching these attacks about student loan forgiveness are those who advocated the Trump tax reforms which basically said to the Middle Class: “Hey—any programs or substantive reforms you guys want you are going to have to pay for, the rich folks aren’t going to contribute much of anything to enhancing civilization or society at all.”
Let’s just forget about how the Middle Class was forced to literally bail out large financial institutions during the 2008 recession.
I’m not even asking for a bail out per se, just a forgiveness of the interest so that I can actually have a chance at repaying what I actually borrowed. Interest is not debt. Interest is income.
Apart from the so-called elites, what about this anti-intellectualism? I think that, in many ways, that stance is a rhetorical device that is used to divide people. Let me provide an actual example.
Student loan forgiveness recently came up as a topic for discussion with a friend of mine. I can’t remember what initiated the topic, but she loudly declared the standard trope:
“I don’t want to pay for other people’s debts. Why should I pay for the mistakes of other people?”
I wasn’t sure how to fruitfully wander into this massive set of assumptions, so I asked if she actually wanted my view on the matter. She said she did, so I told her, as briefly as possible, much of what I have already said.
I concluded by saying. “So, it’s not a matter of mistakes that I, or most have made, it’s due to a confluence of forces, aided and abetted by a bad set of government policies and economic realities which have led to the entire government being shackled by this debt.” I reminded her that the government is, in fact, all of us. So, we all owe this debt already, to ourselves.
She seemed sympathetic to my arguments, and agreed with my statement that I simply wanted the interest on my loan forgiven, not the principle, not what I actually borrowed. But then she repeated:
“I just don’t want to pay for the debts of other people.”
I replied, “Who are these other people? Am I not one of these other people? You and I are of the same socio-economic background—the same burden to pay this back collectively will fall on me as it falls on you, if there is a penalty at all (in fact, there probably won’t be a penalty that most will notice). We are talking about Americans who may work in the same department at state that you do. If you could help a neighbor in need would you not do so? How is this different?” She had no response to that. A couple of conservative Christian responses to my question can be found here and here .
All she could do was repeat the trope, as if the answer was there, because in truth, it was clear she didn’t understand the specifics, the background, how larger economic processes and Federal budgets work. This is often understood as anti-intellectualism, but it is, in fact, also testament to the American myth of the autonomous individual.
In the American myth of the individual, we stand alone as heroic atoms in a void, we are self-made men who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Obviously, this is complete bullshit. No matter how individual our decisions may seem, we are bound in social patterns, collectivities, relationships. Much of what happens to us in the social-political world we literally have NO control over.
I made various financial calculations in my school life to be sure. While I signed up for grants and loans, I also applied for scholarships and fellowships and made some money that way. I also worked often 2-3 jobs at a time (I’ve never been without a job, except for two very short stints on unemployment 30 years apart since I was 14, neither of which occurred when I was a student).
While I was finishing my PhD, I ceased taking out loans, worked to pay two smaller loans that I’d taken out off, found a way to pay my dissertation hours as I went and consolidated all my loan creditors with the Federal Government so I’d have one payment when I got out.
Does this sound like the actions of an ignorant slacker?
In fact, I’ve been told I made all the right decisions. And yet, here I am with ballooning debt. What mistakes did I make for which I must be punished the rest of my life? Being a smart person? Believing or working within a system?
This is where my déjà vu becomes relevant.
About a year after I graduated with my PhD and had just started teaching at the same Community College where I’d begun so many years previous, I was sitting in my girlfriend’s apartment waiting for her to take something tasty off the stove.
We were relaxing in between terms. Some other friends were coming later with dessert. We’d been watching a Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn movie and I was kind of allowing my mind to drift while she puttered in the kitchen.
All of a sudden, I was with an older woman in a darkened prison cell and she was telling me her story. She had been snatched by government forces one fine day, just right out of her house. They took her because of a debt they said she owed, but they didn’t actually charge her with anything specific. She had a vague sense that she was being used as an example in some way.
The story followed her forced incarceration, her solitude and periodic torture at the hands of guards. Eventually, over time she learned how to travel in her mind in order to try to see what was actually happening in her society and found out that she was one of thousands who had been rounded up as enemies of the state, because of what they may have thought, or written about, or financial debts or any number of other supposed wrongs.
According to her, she’d figured out how to mentally enter into the minds of some people to try to introduce different ideas, or just provide some comfort or healing. At one point she was able to look through the eyes of a person she was influencing long enough to see that person viewing a reflection of themselves in the window glass of a store front.
Over time, before she died, she was able to project her consciousness further and further. From the standpoint of her guards, she just got crazier and crazier, so by and by they left her alone, and eventually the compound was abandoned and all the prisoners were left to starve to death. By the time society had changed, the prisons were uncovered and the cells opened, she had been long gone, but in her story, no body was found—she had somehow translated herself completely into another realm.
That whole story and all of her experiences intact flashed through my mind in the short period of time my girlfriend was in the kitchen. I suddenly snapped back to awareness when she called me to ask a question about something.
This experience and story has haunted me ever since. It was not a fantasy, I was literally in this woman's body as she relayed her experiences to me before and after "passing." Because I know, somehow, that the woman in the story was/is/will be? me. Me in this reality or another I cannot say.
But I have lived in literally mortal fear of my student loan debt ever since and in fear of my fellow humans who seem to say that I deserve to be punished for things that have been entirely out of my control, regardless of how much service I’ve paid to my community (going on three decades now) or how diligently I’ve attempted to address this debt. The fact that I understand the context and the history of all this only makes me more dangerous, more contemptable to them.
So yes, I’m going to apply for any student forgiveness I can. I’ve also continued my payments up until the one that I just made today. I understand that my terror is the same that Hanshan faced when the T’ang dynasty fell and he fled to the hills surrounding Guoqing Temple, when the Mongol hordes descended on the universities of Baghdad, when Hypatia confronted the Christian mob that cut her to pieces.
But It isn’t just anti-intellectualism. It is a mentality that equates forgiveness with weakness and rejects the Christian precept of neighborliness and mercy, as much as it tries to say that Jesus was a Capitalist. It accepts the superstitious Puritan notion that if you have any trouble, then you must have brought it somehow on yourself, you must, somehow deserve your misfortune and don’t expect help. I’m not even a Christian and I can say that this is anti-Christian, anti-social, anti-civilization, and anti-life.
If they come and get me, you’ll have this writing as reference.
One more conservative plan for the crisis (although it wouldn't help me specifically, he does make some of the same arguments I do).
*Note: It was pointed out to me by a reader that I needed to be more explicit about how Reagan helped destroy post-secondary institutions. He did this by actively working to abolish Federal and state funding for those schools, which forced them to come up with extra sources of income. This was his idea of making them more "corporate" and competitive (even though large corporations siphon billions from our economy every year and many are openly subsidized by the Feds). Many of my links explain this more explicitly.