Friday, January 13, 2012

The Red Pill

A substantial portion of my friends and family have "eaten the red pill". Those who haven't just don't really speak to me that much any more, for a variety of reasons. It's not that we're angry at each other, it's just that we really don't seem to have that much in common any more. Those of us who have done so simply find it much easier to speak with one another, as our eyes have been opened.

The "red pill" I refer to, of course, is a metaphor referencing a scene from the begining of the first installment of the "Matrix" trilogy of movies, in which the hero is offered a choice by his mentor, where both a red and blue pill are offered in outstretched hands. The blue pill is an invitation to go back to one's daily life, without any knowledge of what is wrong with "the system", while the red pill is a free ticket to knowledge...regardless of what that knowledge may be or bring about.

Back here in the real world, we have no special red pill to take in order to "wake up". I wish that were the case, I'd buy 'em by the truckload and start spiking the water cooler at work! Rather, it is a gradual awakening. It is a slippage into the previously unknown that we tend to drift further and further into, at an ever-increasing velocity.

I was young when I started my descent into the rabbit hole. I'd say it was most likely when I was in the 5th grade. Since I started public school, I was always "gifted, but troubled". My teachers always claimed I was incredibly intelligent, but labeled me as "lazy" because my lack of completed homework often led to failing grades and I did only the bare minimum necessary to not be held back at the end of the year. But anyhow, back to the point. I grew up in a little podunk town in SE Texas, with our school district's mascot being the "Wildcats". In the fifth grade, we students were introduced to two new phenomena. One, the notion of changing classes for different subjects, was new to us because we stayed in the same room in previous years. The other was completely new, as it was a form of a "points system" much like the driver's license points system we now live under here in Texas.

They called it the "Super Cat Folder". Pointless ridiculous lack of originality in naming aside, each child had their own sheet of paper inside this folder. On this sheet was a grid. Each day of the week ran one way, each academic class ran the other, creating a total of 25 squares. It was like a punitive football pot. If you committed any minor infraction in any class, you got a "mark" in your folder. Your teacher for that given class period would notate inside your folder for that given day of the week, what your specific infraction was. It could be any number of things. Not having proper supplies for class (such as your pencil, notebook paper, etc). Not doing your homework properly or at all. Asking to use the restroom during class, instead of pissing after lunch. Doing anything that might cause a teacher to arbitrarily say you were somehow "breaking a rule".

If you receive ten marks in a given week, it was an automatic trip to the principle's office. Instead of any sort of description of infraction when your teacher wrote up the dreaded Discipline Report that got you called into the office, the line dedicated to that purpose read only "10 Marks". On top of that, you had "study hall" for the remainder of the week while the rest of the kids went outside for recess, etc. You sat along the "wall of shame" with the other screwups and had to watch as assembly was called on Friday afternoon, while all of the "Super Cats" were treated to trinkets, pieces of candy, etc.

If you screwed up and forgot to bring that new package of notebook paper with you in the morning, that was half of your allowance of "marks" spent in a single day, as each of your teachers would cite you for it. Your pen is out of ink halfway through the day, and you don't have a spare to get you through Reading, Social Studies and English? Well, your tally is up to eight, and it's only Wednesday. Really need to piss, but you've got an hour until lunch? Well, it's Thursday morning, and you've got one mark in reserve, but you've got a little more than a day and a half until you're in the clear. Oh, damn! You forgot to do your vocabulary words! Down to the office, son.

I was referred to as "anti-authority" the entire time I was in school. Dad kept telling me, typically right after he finished whipping my ass for getting sent to the principle's office, that I was acting like my mother. It was the same old story. "I know you're not stupid. Why won't you just do what you're told?"

Well, sadly, when you're in the 5th grade, the offering of "Hey, I'm sorry. Shit happens." doesn't quite cut it...especially when you're talking to dad.

The interesting thing is, it was my own father who taught me to question the system I was being punished under, even as he was a part of it. It was he, throughout my life, who had brought me up to understand the difference between right and wrong...and to know that arbitrary and idiotic rules did not change what was right and wrong.

While they tried and failed to indoctrinate me, they were doing a damned good job on my father. Keep in mind, my father is a man who once got his ass whipped at school for smoking in the parking lot (decades before this was actually against any law, and had only violated school policy) by a man who lit up his own tightleg right outside his office less than half an hour after the asswhipping was finished. Not long after graduation, my father saw this same man purchasing an air conditioner unit at a hardware store, and promptly told him to "kiss his ass" when this man asked for help bringing said air conditioner to his truck. I didn't hear this story for the first time until after almost a decade of being out of school, but it continues to reinforce the idea of my father being a personal hero of mine.

I guess dad was too busy working his ass off trying to support us, to really recognize what was going on. All he knew was "it's Tuesday evening, I just got home and have to be back at work in nine hours, and there's another pink slip in the mail.", and the constant bombardment of the idea that I was some sort of "behavioral issue".

I liken the idea of this bullshit "Supercat Folder" to the idea that if you get a dozen speeding tickets, you are every bit as morally and criminally guilty as the man who rapes and robs an old lady, even though you had not actually harmed anyone or any thing...namely, because that is essentially what it was attempting to teach us. Often, what separated the "innocent" from the "guilty" was nothing more than something as simple as needing to take a leak, or using the pencil sharpener more than twice in given class. Get nine marks? You're golden, it's Friday afternoon, have a nice day. Ten marks? You're in a world of shit.

If you were caught using that compass they made you buy every year for math class but actually used for ten whole minutes for a purpose such as etching your name into the desk, you got sent to the office and endured the same punishment as someone with their "ten marks". If you got caught beating the shit out of another kid on the playground, you got sent to the office and got the same punishment as someone who got their "ten marks".

By November of that year, it was very clear to everyone who that year's "chronic fuckups" were. I suppose I'm one of the lucky ones. Half of us ended up in prison, with most of these being before the age of 21. About a quarter of us ended up dead. As for me, I finished out the first and last years of my three junior high years in in-school suspension, with my 7th grade year in an "Alternative School" after being expelled for possession of a billy club I used to protect myself from a bully who was literally twice my size. High school wasn't much different.

What frightens me the most about it is the fact that half of us "fifth grade fuckups" were just straight-up fuck-ups from the word go, while the other half of us were people who just didn't fit into the structure being forced upon us...and that split stayed true amongst those of us who saw prison and the grave. Death and jail took a lot of friends away from me, and I haven't forgotten why.

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