“How is it you can keep so serene and stay so utterly insensible with a storm of shells and bullets raining about your head?”
“Captain Smith, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death, I do not concern myself with that—but to be always ready, whenever it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live. Then all men would be equally brave.”
Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in Gods and Generals (2003)
We Texans are at present legally entitled to evade the covid virus in whatever manner we think best. Masks are optional in public places, and hereabouts are seen on scarcely one Texan in ten. Private businesses are at liberty to require masks, but those that mask their employees seem happy to ring up sales to unmasked customers. This wanton and barefaced liberty extends even to the inmates of government schools, primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary alike.
The pusillanimous pedagogues and professors are, unsurprisingly, sputtering and trembling by turns.
The Faculty Senate of my own university attempted, earlier this summer, to persuade the State Legislature that the university be allowed to “follow the science” and subject its students to another year of swaddled stupefaction and automated asininity. As I remarked here earlier, true savants will smile at this pompous slogan, since natural science has no opinion where humanity ought to go. Humanity can go to the devil, so far as natural science is concerned.
Thwarted in their attempt to secure exemption from State law, the learned lemmings bethought themselves how they could otherwise make the university healthy for themselves and hellacious for their students.
“‘Nasty?’ said the Professor. ‘Why, of course it is! What would Medicine be, if it wasn’t nasty.’”*
Some professors proposed to bring their “moral authority” to bear on unmasked students, overlooking the facts that moral authority presupposes moral agreement, that doffing the mask expresses moral disagreement, and that no amount of wagging their hairy eyebrows was going to shame a good-looking and vivacious twenty-year-old into once again taking the veil. Other professors proposed to bribe students with “extra credit” for mask-wearing. When they were told that law required them to offer equivalent “extra credit” to the barefaced barbarians, some craftily proposed to accept a ten-page paper, provided it was suitable for publication and backed by original research in library, archive or lab.
My casual observations suggest that masks on campus are presently running 9.5:10 among the professors, and 1.5:10 among the students, a full week of moral authority and eyebrow waggling notwithstanding. The disparity is partly owing to the fact that the mask has become a political marker, like the red and black cockades of revolutionary Europe. But I believe age and health are larger factors. Students are young, vivacious, and very unlikely to die. Professors on the other hand . . . Well, let me take a second quote from Lewis Carrol’s Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893). Bruno’s hat has just rolled out of sight.
“‘Maybe it’s rolled in there,’ Sylvie suggested, pointing to a dark recess, the door of which stood half open: and Bruno ran in to look. After a minute he came slowly out again, looking very grave, and carefully shut the cupboard door after him
‘It aren’t in there,’ he said, with such unusual solemnity, that Sylvie’s curiosity was roused.
‘What is in there, Bruno?’
‘There’s cobwebs—and two spiders—’ Bruno thoughtfully replied, checking off the catalogue on his fingers, ‘—the cover of a picture book—and a tortoise—and a dish of nuts—and an old man.’
‘An old man!’ cried the Professor, trotting across the room in great excitement. ‘Why, it must be the Other Professor . . .’”
Professors are, on average, old, somewhat sickly, and strangely terrified by the though of their own death. Many will tell you that they believe in a scientific world that is just as fatal as the Calvinist world of Stonewall Jackson, but this belief has not gifted them with Jackson’s serene fatalism. The Calvinist Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall” because he took no notice of a storm of shells and bullets that was raining about his head; the scientific professors have earned the nickname of Chicken Little because they are terrified by the storm of sputum and virus that is raining about their heads.
The selfless courage of the Calvinist Jackson emboldened his men and gave Jackson moral authority. The selfish pusillanimity of the scientific professors is, I daresay, tickling the students with well-deserved contempt. Students have so far surrendered a year and a half of their lives, and a goodly portion of their undergraduate education, to keep us old professors safe, and I believe they are right to believe that they have sacrificed enough. Students think it is time for us old professors to come out of our cobwebbed and spidery cupboards and show some stoic fortitude in this storm of sputum and virus. They think it is time we sacrificed for them.
And the students in this rare instance are right!
*) Lewis Carrol’s Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893).