The slow movement continues to occupy new terrain, gradually. I just read The Slow Professor. It’s a beguiling book, written in controlled anger at the corporatized university, overrun by administrators and marketers. Being a prof was once the ideal, or idealized, notion of a perfect Canadian job; now they feel like cogs on the assembly line in Modern Times. Authors Maggie Berg of Queen’s and Brock’s Barbara Seeber wrote it together, further decelerating the process.
It makes intuitive sense for anyone who’s tried to study a text or idea with students, versus “covering” it in a lecture. You might not get through a single line in two hours, you just keep sinking deeper into it as more questions are raised. Writing and reading by contrast are fast because no one slows you down with, “But, um….”. In that sense books are fast and talk is slow. But that’s probably so in most areas of our experience, it’s the speedup that’s anomalous.
That would be the point of the slow movement. It’s made its mark in food, gardening, aging, travel, money — as well as Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slow, though not, as far as I can see, in politics. We await The Slow Citizen. Or has he arrived, in the person of Colin Kaepernick? You see it in his very demeanour.
The NFL quarterback sat out the U.S. anthem in at least one NFL pre-season game, to protest social injustice in America, before being asked about it in Green Bay. He wasn’t pressing. Then he started to kneel instead of sitting because he decided he wanted to show the U.S. flag some respect, too. It’s like an exercise in mindfulness. He says he’ll continue till the flag “represents what it’s supposed to represent.” That could take awhile.
There was a long, slow history building to this, starting perhaps with Jackie Robinson in the late 1940s. Muhammad Ali refused the draft to protest the war in Vietnam. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists at the ’68 Olympics. LeBron James and others wore “I Can’t Breathe” jerseys more recently.
Then it exploded with Kaepernick’s seemingly lone gesture. What’s astonishing is not his challenge to patriotic symbols but the relative tolerance for it. That used to be unthinkable. Now his teammates are largely behind his right to do it, as is Chip Kelly, his coach. Chip, for goddsake! By contrast, Team USA hockey coach John Tortorella, who ably represents the benighted past, says any of his players who sit for the anthem sit for the game. Kaepernick’s sweater is outselling all others in the NFL. That may be the most mind-bending sign of all.
So it’s suddenly acceptable to challenge the official knee jerk versions of America’s national religion: patriotism. Maybe Trump helped with raw appeals to the ugliest, goriest forms of America First nativism. Kaepernick didn’t voice all that but, in his slow, deliberate way, somehow allowed it to catch up to him.
There are other examples. The transformation of attitudes — and laws — on gender matters is breathtaking. Application of harsh punishments for sodomy or buggery lie within easy memory for many. What’s striking isn’t the change but its suddenness and totality, as if it was percolating below the surface like molten lava or whatever’s down there. Then it erupts, like Kaepernick’s apparently isolated, individual gesture — and links up. I’d put the return to respectability of “socialism” on the list. It used to be anathema. So what does that make it now … athema?
That’s why it’s wrong to despair, despite surface catastrophes. The Slow Professor cautions against cries of despair, like those of McMaster prof Henry Giroux. Aside from being premature, they might make it seem too late to act. That also holds for revolutionary voices, such as Chris Hedges. He’s passionate and eloquent but his pessimism can demoralize the very urgency he inspires.
Perhaps there’s even room for The Slow Revolutionary, a term I’d have gagged on in the past: not just because of subterranean processes that may be essential to change but for emotional reasons too. Radical union leaders I’ve admired, like the CAW’s Bob White or the late Kent Rowley, often seemed energized at moments of great failure. I used to think they were gearing up to carry on but maybe it was also a kind of slow thinking. If you weren’t going to live to see the end of the road yourself, you could at least savour the moment.
This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Photo: Brook Ward/flickr
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