Alethophobia - Chapter 3 - Storm


A few days later, my red Celica is taking me to work.  The policewoman’s naked beauty and her defiance of the law in my Washington dream intrigue me.  I am also itching to become naked and defiant in my real life.  Even better, I’m itching for every atom of my body to be naked with every hot naked atom of her body.  With this thought, my neurons fire in colors of joy as if it was the Forth of July already.  Now you see how my id tries to sublimate for my unspoken beliefs and fallowed resolves. 
Now my mood changes.  If I defy the narrow norm for a broader truth, I fear I will plunge a dagger in the heart of my students’ beliefs, and hurt them in one way, in order to heal them in another.  In doing so, I must also plunge a dagger into my own false identity.  But if I let Alethophobia and Philopseudia rule my life I’ll die a fraud.  So hypocrite Pirooz must die before the real Pirooz lives!  And in the process I must tear away the professional skins, of my colleagues too.  They are frauds, too, knowingly or unknowingly.  Are these thoughts I share with you are just detritus of a dream?
*               *               *
Suddenly I slam on the brakes before rear-ending a horse in the back of a truck.
“Damn you, Pirooz.  You’re daydreaming again; more dangerous than a loose tiger in a children’s playground.”  I castigate myself.
Finally, I reach the safety of the parking lot.  At the office, I check my mail, answer a wrong number, bemoan a phone advertiser, and gather my notes, before I hurriedly walk to my classroom.  Today I’m conducting a seminar on “Methods of Political Economy.”  Will today be the day I jump into the icy rapids?  Doubts stay glued to me as I descend three flights of stairs to my seminar room: Pirooz, go all out!  Not today Pirooz, maybe another day.  Attack everything!  No, no.  Stick to your safe, self-censored notes, Pirooz. 
“Good afternoon,” I mumble as I enter the small windowless, room.  I sit at the head of the large, worn table, and stare at the faces surrounding me.  They stare back at me as if sensing my agitation.  I begin as always: “Are there any comments, questions, any new illuminations, revelations, protests?”
When I first began asking this long question in the early seventies, it would always provoke a sharp debate about something.  But now it is the eighties.  Students love capitalism more than the Rockefellers do -- so nobody is interested in a debate.  Before my eyes can land on my notes, I hear myself say, “Who can tell me what the word fact means?”
“Could you define it first?” asks Daniel, who always sits across from me, as if he were the mirror above my bathroom sink.  He has delicate features, but seems very fit and carries himself as a classic, clean-cut Anglo-American youth.
I laugh.  “I ask you to tell me what the word means and you ask me to define it?”
Daniel, the Mirror, does not know what to say, nor does anyone else.  They all look about the room, as if waiting for invisible butterflies of wisdom to land on their heads.
I let them off the hook.  “Defining all words in terms of all other words is circular, like getting lost in a Chinese-to-Chinese dictionary.  Some basic words, like mother, are to be left undefined but understood.  A baby monkey knows mother as a fact.  No need for definition there.  One can define a sunset by simply pointing it out.  The world grumbles to us, ‘I exist, therefore you experience me.’  Note that the world itself is a fact -- the Grandmother of all facts.  But, the World is not definable.  So some facts will remain undefined, Daniel.  Some facts like the physical brain can be observed and documented, while some facts, like the mind, cannot be observed, but is frequently reported, and some notions like God can neither be observed nor finitely described and defined.  Am I right?  If you disagreed with this line of thought, show me your evidence.”  All wait for the invisible butterflies, but for Daniel. 
“If we agree on certain basic facts” he asks, then why are there so many basic misunderstandings?”
“Because we are the mammals,” I answer, “who invent and propagate non-facts and partial-facts to fool ourselves.  Our languages are ambiguous.  Some words are emotionally charged, like God, or politics, or Stars and Stripes, and some are fuzzy, like love and beauty.  Some like redness, hardness, sweetness, and all othernesses, are imprecise terms, referring to unspecified degrees of something.  By inventing more words we can make language more precise and more bulky. I turn back to write something on the board and hear a whisper.
“You just invented the word otherness.” 
I reply, “That was in the line of duty!”
I turn back and take time to smile at everyone individually, then begin to provoke them: “For example, the word God is fuzzy, even if it is printed as firmly in our minds as it is printed on our coins.  To some, God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost combined.  To others, God is a spiritual force, or sum of all universal laws.  To some, God is male, and to others a female, or even an animal.  To some, God is the sun or the moon or an idol, or just plain dead.  Notice some of these gods are seen, some unseen.  To atheists, God refers to a pre-existing poof, or nothing.  To some God is a friend, to others an enemy to be cursed.”
Michelle, a girl with too much hair for her tiny face, whispers, “I never heard of God as fuzzy.”
“I said, the word is all that is fuzzy.  I have no clue what lurks in someone’s conscious or subconscious as God, or what God is, if God exists.”
“Did you say non-facts are invented?” Daniel asks.
“Yes.  Like piles and piles of compost.  Rulers, bosses, theocracts, even parents, do invent non-facts.  Let’s start with Santa Claus.  This innocent tale, in my humble opinion, prepares children to accept other stories as fact.  Religion is another story presented as fact, and so is most of history, and what about commercials -- even some of our science.” 
Suddenly I hear myself reciting the first line in a thousand-year-old poem in Persian: “Har kas ke bedanad ke bedanad va bedanad ke bedana.”  Seeing that they look at me like a madman, I start over and read the entire poem in English.

“The person who knows, and knows that he knows,
Glides his horse of honor over the blue revolving skies.
The person who knows, but does not know that he knows,
Awaken him or else he shall remain forever unaware that he knows.
The person who doesn’t know, but knows that he doesn’t know,
Will struggle, but he will get somewhere somehow.
The person who doesn’t know, and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know,
Is condemned to the everlasting darkness of ignorance.”

A student who has not opened his mouth, and barely his eyes, all semester, now surprisingly gives me the invitation I have been waiting for.
“Uh, I’m not sure if I’m following what these non-fact thingamabobs are.”
I am on my feet like a shot.  My chair is on its back and my energy is flowing. 
“Oh, you are following my good man!  We are all following!  Following our bosses!  Out of the some false beliefs or real fears, the very same ones that kept slaves, slaves, and serfs, serfs, and insecure wage earners insecure wage earners!  Look, wild turkeys don’t know much -- but what they do know is essential for their survival.  No wasted knowledge.  On the other hand, we humans know a lot, but much of what we think we know, is not exactly true nor is it an outright lie, and could even  be detrimental to our survival.
“Nazism convinced Germans of Aryan superiority and the need to exterminate ‘inferiors’; Stalinism induced revolutionaries to collectivize agriculture by murdering peasants; and our leaders made us kill or be killed in Vietnam for the sake of a non-fact like fighting communism to maintain the Free World -- the world full of dictators the CIA has installed, and or the US supports. 
I scout their young faces for signs of offended sensibilities.  A three-hundred-pound, red-haired football player, son of a college trustee and called The Big Red by the local newspapers, stares at me with glowing red eyes.  “You’re saying we’re no better than the Bolsheviks?  Get real, Professor Pirooz!”
I shake my head vigorously.  “No.  I’m just talking about the use of non-facts.  You made the comparisons!  Who is free, the CIA’s manufactured dictators or the masses they oppress?  Even U.S. elections border on perpetrating frauds!  And too many times, the biggest liars are the biggest bosses, since TV spreads their lies worldwide.  And almost every regime uses these techniques.  America is just very good at the practice and rattles a big stick behind its lies.  The US have unilaterally broken more than four hundred of its own treaties with the native Americans.”  As I finish this, a surge of dread invades me.  Where am I leading them?  Where am I going? 
The Big Red leans over the table, as if it were the scrimmage line.  “If America is so lousy, why did you bother to come here from I-ran?”
His attack unnerves me, but I pretend I’m cool.  I reply: “Maybe the America I created in my mind when I was in Iran, was much better than the America I found when I finally came here.  Maybe I ran from I-ran, as you pronounce it, and stayed here because I-ran was even worse than the U.S.  Anyhow, my person or origin should not be an issue, only my facts and the logic they forward.  I’m describing the U.S., not attacking it.  I wonder, as you should too, why the Free World is full of dictators.  That is not all.  The idea that we have the best ideas or system is a terribly limiting idea!  It has the power to dull our curiosity, cause self-righteousness, and embrace complacency.”
Daniel comes to my rescue.  “How can one tell which ideas or beliefs to embrace?”
I playfully wag my finger at him.  “I refuse to tell you what to believe, and I refuse to tell you what not to believe.  Our ability to do so is limited anyway.  Just be critical of your beliefs, as if they were the beliefs of your foe.  Remember McCarthyism was our Inquisition, and the Vietnam War was our Crusades, and the ultimate invention of weapons of mass destruction is certainly our curse.  I hope our enemies will never find a way to use those weapons against us.
The Big Red growls under his breath.  “How can anyone be fooled by a non-fact?” 
“Well,” I say, “many people are made to believe in the Free World and operate in cultures that practice a national religion of one type or another.  I’m just saying, America has that in common with the others.”
The Big Red snaps back: “How can I believe in a national religion?  I don’t know even what it is Mr. Pirooz!”
“Well, in Iran we were taught that the King was the father of the nation, and the shadow of God.  We hymned our national anthem -- how Iran was the greatest land on earth.  I eventually found how untrue some of those messages were, and how dangerous, too.”
The Big Red hammers me.  “What does this have to do with us Americans?”
I hold my forehead in two hands, mustering my courage.  Then I rub my hands nervously as if I was washing off my secure past. 
“Our patriotism -- like other peoples’ patriotism -- works like religion in some ways.  Think of Christopher Columbus as Abraham, who brought his flock from Ur to Palestine and displaced the natives, claiming that this was God’s will; George Washington is Moses, who freed his people from the Pharaoh of the time, King George III; America’s Founding Fathers are like the apostles, and the Constitution like the holy book; the love of property serves more than the love of thy neighbor; the flag becomes the cross to be carried; the Pledge of Allegiance is the communion; the National Anthem is the hymn; the TV is Gabriel’s voice, telling people what is good and what is bad, what is worthy and what is not; the Democrats and Republicans are different denominations; Marx is the Devil; truth is the Temptation; poverty is purgatory and prison Hell and wealth is Heaven.  If you do the right things according to this religion, you can be rich, and if not, you could be poor.” 
I pause until the blank faces become unbearable to me.  “The World Wars, and Vietnam, are tragic examples of wars of national religions.  Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, Muslims and Jews in Palestine, and Capitalists and Communists in more places than we can count are killing each other and each opposing side believes itself to be the righteous one.  Thinking America is immune to such things, is, well, negligent, if not criminal.” 
I fall silent and my students fall silent.  We are like sculptures in a wax museum.  But what I hear is not a peaceful type of silence, but a loud and angry silence from eyes that are helplessly watching the severed heads of sacred cows rock back and forth on the floor.
The Big Red, his face now red, shuts his textbook with an angry bang.  He rises, walks around the table, and faces me nose-to-nose like a baseball manager arguing with a blind umpire.  He calls me an atheistic alien raghead, and storms out of my classroom like it was Caligula’s court.
I struggle to settle my quivering fingers by pushing them hard against the table.  His too much hair girlfriend gathers her notebooks and walks out, too.  Others become edgy.  Two more leave, avoiding eye contact with me.  My face is on fire, I am soaking in sweat and indecision.  I never expected this reaction.  Never!  I see the remaining students as blurry images, out of focus and lost in an intoxicated, burly fog.
What have I done?  What have I become?  I cannot believe what I just said.  Even if it’s true.  Who am I to challenge American beliefs?  They don’t take to Iranian challengers of their perceptions, anymore than Iranians accept Americans challenging theirs.  Who the hell am I?  Is there any room for me to be wrong, and others to be right?  Do I have to be right about these things?  Have I lost the very objectivity I challenge in my students?
Suddenly something detonates inside me.  I smack the table so hard that the pain shoots up to my shoulder.  Out of control, I speak as if to myself, as if to the world, as if to the times. 
“I was not programmed with the American national religion when I was too young to question it.  That is my advantage, perhaps.  But, I have an accent, I even think and write with an accent.  In fact, I am an accent!  A rebellious accent demanding to be heard.  I refuse to be intimidated any longer.  I’m from the tribe of accented people who carry geography and history in our luggage.  We seed, and are seeded with new ideas everywhere.  From this day forward, I’ll no longer self-censor myself.”
Open mouths, widened eyes, and worried glances surround me.  I wait for the rest to leave.  But no one leaves; they seem bolted to their seats, just as my bold surge wanes and I’m glued to my uncertainty.  I try to say something more, but can’t.  My throat is dry and squeezed and my tongue is sewn to my palate.
The silence melts me down like acid.  At last, the girl seated next to Daniel smiles.  Her name is Lia, one of the flowers of the Vietnam War, carried across the Pacific in the beak of a dove born of guilt.  She is short and delicate and cute, with silken dark hair and distinguished, sensitive eyes.
“Professor Pirooz, tell me more about this national religion – I think I’m a victim of it.”  Her invitation resurrects my hopes.  I swallow the bitter lump of fear in my throat. 
“Most of us are not aware how surreptitiously national religion enters your consciousness and manipulates you.  We are constantly and subtly asked to conform, or be harassed as a heretic.  Though unexpressed thoughts and feelings sometimes haunt us, we are still deluded that we are free to express them.  For reasons born of the scene you just witnessed with The Big Red.  We should be as free in America as the politicians say we are.”
Daniel the Mirror, apparently Mary’s boyfriend, since they are holding hands atop a biology textbook, encourages me to offer a specific example of national religion.
“I have a very close friend, the kindest and most vibrant soul, who was my witness during my ceremony to become a U.S. citizen.  He won academic and sport honors in college, and volunteered for any good cause he could find.  The only flaw in his character was his unqualified nationalism, I thought.  Despite the bonfires of draft cards all around him, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam.  I kept my anti-war activities from him because I was afraid to hurt his patriotic feelings.  Within a month of landing in Vietnam, a land mine blew off his legs and shattered his spine.  Every time I visit him in a veteran’s hospital he shakes his head -- the only part of his body he is still able to move -- and repeats, ‘I don’t know who put the idea inside my head to kill Vietnamese, who only fought for their country.  All I can do now is lay here and wait for the nurses to help me eat and help me shit, and think and re-think and regret the entire mess forever.”
“Is patriotism always bad?” Daniel asks freeing the gripping silence.
I like the question.  “No.  But it can be abused.  Like science and religion.”
“Who is the god of this national religion?” Lia asks.
“Money!” I answer.  “On the coins we say, ‘In God we trust,’ but it is the money that we trust.”
“Is this going to be on the final?” Brian asks.  We burst into a nervous laugher.
“Why not?” I answer.  “Economics and politics and religion are intertwined as the trinity.”
The class falls silent again.  Have I magically made the invisible, visible, I wonder?
Finally Georgia, the girlfriend of J.J.’s son, the only black student in my class, her round, ginger-brown face surrounded by an explosion of Jamaican dreadlocks, which she will have to sheer if she ever intends on getting a job, raises her hand.
“Dr. Off calls the Soviet Union a theocracy, socialism according to the Politburo, like Christianity according to the Pope, and Islam according to the Ayatollah!”
“He is right,” I explain.  “Churches need money, they maintain a certain amount of power, and preachers and prophets have to eat.  Indoctrination accepts no boundary of any kind.”
Georgia, bless her, will not let go.  “Even here at our college?”
I chuckle sadly.  “Obey the Commandments of your professors and you will graduate Suma cum laude.  Disobey and there is a job at Taco Bell for you.  Just as indoctrination accepts no boundaries, conformity permits no exceptions.  Remember the woman who crusaded for birth control, just for the ability of women to prevent unwanted pregnancy.  She had to flee the country to avoid arrest.  I forget her name.”
“Margaret Sanger,” Georgia reminds me with a scowl.  “She said, ‘More children from the fit, less from the unfit.’  I did a paper on the bitch -- excuse me.  She is an elitist and a racist.”
“I did not know this about her,” I say.  “You have helped all of us inch closer to the truth today, Georgia.  But she was run out of the country for what she believed, in violation of her rights as surely as Jesus was crucified and Socrates was forced to drink hemlock.”
Lia squints suspiciously and thinks suspiciously.  “How do we examine the validity of your opinions?” she asks.
“Good question, Lia.  By evidence, by logic, by intuition, by debate, and by praying if you are so inclined,” I say, winking.
A long, long pause ensues.  And then, suddenly, my worst fears come true.  Daniel touches his lip as if to taste a difficult decision.  Then, frowning harder she blurts out, “Is this discussion filled with fact, or non-fact?  Or just your biases?”
I suddenly feel I am standing between two gates of Hell.  To confess or not to confess.  Both options seem scorching.  Seconds stretch my bone as if I was torn apart in an ancient torture chamber.  I hear murmuring and see my five faithful students exchange uneasy glances.  I sense their consternation.  I suddenly wish to be swallowed by an ethereal crevasse since each word of my answer would be a dagger stabbing into myself.
Finally, I confess: “If I teach this course as the textbook and the university demand, it would be an illusion presented as social science.  At best I’m giving facts and non-facts moral equivalency.”  I swallow my saliva as though I have a sore throat.  No, as though it were poison.
Suddenly I shout: “A life full of compromises is a life in a low intensity hell.”
“Why?” Daniel wonders.  “Why have you been teaching us non-truths that even you don’t believe?”
I know I must tear off my professional cloak as if it was my skin.  Now.
“To get tenure, after being denied tenure twice in other universities, I admit, and to avoid the dread of rejection by colleagues or students after I finally got my tenure.  It has now become my second nature to conform, to dissimulate, and to express falsehoods.”
Blood darkens Georgia’s ginger-brown face.  “Dr. Pirooz, I received an A last term for filling my brain with things you don’t believe?”
I feel a pang in my liver, where poison is extracted and discarded.  I say, “Yes, yes,” again and again like a robot talking to itself, the bitterest ‘yesses’ of my life.
“How about today’s lecture,” Brian wonders.  “Lies, too?”
“No.  Not today’s lecture,” I whisper as if not wanting to hear it myself, as if I was a dead man talking!  “Yes, I teach rubbish, and publish rubbish.  You are not my only victims.  I‘ve sold my soul!  I must be criticized more severely than anything I’ve criticized!”
“Why the truth now?” Georgia asks.  “You got cancer or something?”
“My guilt,” I respond, “has been building for a long time.”
“I appreciate the truth now,” Brian says, “but you get an ‘F’ for being past due, sir.”
“Thank you, I deserve it,” I whisper as if wishing for no one to hear it.
Georgia is more sympathetic.  “My grandparents in Mississippi had to swallow the white man’s poop and give thanks for the candy, like you say you must do.”
“Mankind began eating his own poop for candy since the invention of language and exploitation,” I respond and wonder what else there is for me to say. 
Daniel breaks my reverie.  “The truth is good, regardless of when it is unearthed.”
I should let this mirror of mine have the last word, but I am driven to say more.  “I must tell you that I may be in big trouble for the content in this lecture.  Big trouble.”
“Trouble?” Lia asks.
“Machines will not unionize and rebel, so no one has to lie to them, but people being exploitable, must be lied to, to stifle their curiosity and tendency to rebel against unfairness.  To censor Giordano Bruno, the Church executioners nailed his tongue before setting him ablaze.  Hopefully, I won’t have to suffer like him.”
“You’re saying we’re brainwashed then?” Brian wonders aloud. 
I bite my lip.  “The saying that ‘there is no brainwashing in America’ is the biggest whitewashing in America!  Why do you think corporations spend billions in their messages to sell you alcoholic beverages, or cigarettes, or politicians?”
“Why do you repeatedly belittle America?” Georgia asks softly.
“I’m trying to show how one’s beliefs become one’s beliefs, and why.  America doesn’t have a patent on the process.  If I was in USSR and had the courage I would say worse!  Remember my confession,” I say.  “Other professors could confess too, except most of them don’t know that they don’t know.”
The bell punctuates my discourse and signals the end of the period.  I quickly gather my papers for the lecture that I did not give and start to leave the classroom, as though taking flight from my confession.  Reconsidering, I return to shake the hands of my five remaining students as they file out.  Daniel, shaking my hand wholeheartedly, says, “Please do not be discouraged Professor Pirooz.”  Lia nods her approval. 
The girl who rarely speaks encourages me to “keep kickin’ butt.”  At last, Georgia hugs me and whispers, “Thank you.”
As the room empties, I recall my recent lecture at the Kiwanis club.  I told them big business in America is run like an army division.  I said that workers, technicians, and researchers are treated as foot soldiers that have little brains or interest in the company, and that American workers waded through decades of bloody struggle to get collective bargaining and mentioned that I wondered when they would be treated as Homo sapiens.
I can’t help wondering how I will be labeled in a community that wrongly tagged Dr. Off as a homosexual for just a quote.






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MParvin
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writing MParvin
Professor Manoucher Parvin, a polymath, has published novels, poems, short stories and numerous works in various fields of sciences.
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Synopsis
a•leth•o•pho•bi•a ( ă -leth- o' - fo´be- ă) n. 1. A crippling fear of truth. 2. The inability to accept unflattering facts about your nation, religion, culture, ethnic group, or yourself. [Greek aletho, truth + phobia Late Latin, from Greek, from phobos, fear.] a•leth•o•pho´bi•ac´ (-ak) n. a•leth•o´pho´bic (-fo´bik, fob´ik) adj. & n. Alethphobically
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