I went through my first two years of college scared to death and feeling like a moron. The tone was set in that week of indoctrination. I had read Walden 2 pretty carefully, and, as I said, I had thoughts about it, though I was not sure I had the right ones, the ones I was supposed to have. Overall, I thought, you know, that a world controlled along rational guidelines by scientists was not an entirely bad idea. I am speaking here, to be sure, of ideas. The book seemed to me sort of dumb at another level, or let’s say it was dumb if it was anything other than pure speculation.
For example, in a rational universe, people would say, cigarettes are bad for you. They kill people; therefore we should ban the sale of all cigarettes. That’s pretty damn logical and right there you have the problem. People are too stupid to know their own self interests; they are ignorant and self-centered. Also self-destructive. If people were rational they would have all already decided not to smoke on the basis of a response to the evidence. So people were too dumb, stupid, and self-centered for them to ever go for Walden 2.
That’s sort of what I thought, although perhaps not quite as articulately as I have put it here. Finally, the time for discussing the book came around. I was in a room with about 15 other people I didn’t know and a professor. I gave up almost immediately on the idea I was going to say anything. These people were smart and they were articulate, and they didn’t mind being in the spotlight. They didn’t say just yes or no or this is what I think the author means. They immediately lit into what they thought about the book, and they didn’t like it. The best I could gather was that Skinner was an evil bastard who would strip persons of their rights and their freedom.
I felt bad. I let myself down that day. I got snowed under. I was for rights too, and being a teen-age existentialist, nothing was more important than freedom. I just didn’t understand what I was getting into. Just as I didn’t understand my reaction to the word “lifestyle.”
I don’t think I can think of any other moment in my life when I remember the first time I heard a word. But I can remember that time. I can remember where I was sitting in the room, over towards the windows, with the afternoon light slanting in. I was in my first ever “English” class, a special one for majors like myself, and the Professor had asked some question maybe about abortion, and a student said, “That’s a lifestyle choice.” I had heard the word, but not seen the speaker. But I turned round to see who it was, as the teacher indicated that was the correct response.
My reaction was involuntary and strong. I was angry and disgusted. A life was not a fucking lifestyle. Deciding whether or not to have an abortion was not a fucking lifestyle choice. I mean back then abortion was illegal. I couldn’t imagine that any of the people I had known who might have had to get one would have seen getting one as a lifestyle choice. It would have been a grueling, horrible and debilitating decision, and you might not have been able to get one at all.
So I let myself down again. I didn’t say anything. I mean what was I going to say? I hadn’t heard the word before. I didn’t know the fucking word existed, so I didn’t have any rational objection to it. All I could have said was something like, “Lifestyle! Lifestyle! Who the fuck dreamt up that abomination! Lifestyle my fucking ass.”
Hell, I was already having problems fitting in.