Real life in beautiful and ugly Guadalajara.

Several weeks ago I paid a visit to a blog I really enjoy called The Bierce Account.  The writer, who calls himself Felipe Zapata, is a gringo turned Mexican and a master of ‘short and to the point’, a talent that amateurs like myself should try to develop and who knows why the hell we don’t.  But what really attracts me and surely many others is his direct, ‘don’t care if it makes you so angry you spit up on yourself’ free expression of opinion.  And anger some it’s bound to do, for it takes contemporary conventional wisdom straight to the chopping block.  If his intention was to simply spread negativity with venomous shorthand, as many likely see it, I would not be stinking up my own pristine site with a link to his.    Some believe he’s a pretentious dolt.  Pretentious, perhaps.. but the guy is genuine and seems to like a good philosophical scuffle.  And that makes him A-OK with me.

I really wanted to leave him a comment for his Feb. 5 post, for he discusses a pair of topics I’ve long been fascinated by:  racial & ethnic diversity and multiculturalism  (here’s a couple of others - 7/31/2010 and 10/19/2010).  His take on the matter is that governments that impose diversity are not facing reality  -  that our nature as humans is to desire what’s familiar to us.   Leaders in Germany and Britain seem to be finally waking up to this reality…  Sound racist?  Bigoted?  To some, it may sound that way, but I believe he’s right on the money.  Some will say he advocates a twisted fantasy of complete separation of cultures.  I don’t read it that way at all.  He’s simply pointing out the sad reality we live in.  It’s a reality we’ve brought down upon ourselves due to the way we’re naturally prone to perceive difference.

Though I enjoy living in Mexico the same as I like many of my fellow gringos, to overload Mexico with us neighborly folks from the north would lead to unfortunate consequences.. the success of Walmart, KFC, and The Simpsons notwithstanding.  It would take no more than one of you to counter with “Hell, we couldn’t possibly make it any worse than it already is!!” to magnify my point.  Mexico is certainly fouled up on many levels.  But don’t ever fancy the idea that you, as a gringo, or many gringos, will be able to make it better.  A gringo or any foreigner in Mexico that genuinely wants to improve Mexico had better become a Mexican first.. in his heart far more importantly than on documents.

So I was at a loss for a comment, for I felt I hadn’t much to add.  And then I spotted a couple of comments by Gary Denness.  Gary’s an Englishman who spent six years here and has just gone home.  He seems like a good bloke.   I could sit down and enjoy a couple of beers with him, I think.  Definitely at odds with The Bierce Account.  Though his desires for the world, concerning race and ethnic relations, are far more similar to those of Sr. Felipe Zapata than I believe he can imagine.  Their disagreement concerns what humanity must do for itself. And the disagreement is due to two differing methods of prioritizing our perceptions of cultural difference.

The following represents a couple of sticky pennies I dug out from underneath the cushions of the couch to toss into the matter.. a bit long.. as always, for a succinct comment under someone’s blog post.  But should you happen to make it over here, Gary, this is a rebuttal to your comments at The Bierce Account.  I’m with Don Felipe.  It’s likely to open a can of worms… I don’t mind, as long as they’re big juicy ones….

 

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

There’s an adult version and a children’s version. 

Almost everyone, including most adults, adheres to the latter. 

You can usually tell the adult version for its scant use of the actual word itself.  It represents little more than a vague side note to an individual’s observation, for it calls no attention to itself.  The adult version of diversity occurs on its own.  It needs not be defined for its own sake.  It needs not be constantly spoken nor strong-armed into existence.  It’s neither a means nor an end.  It just is.  The world in its basic form, free from our lower IQ methods of association that attempt to describe it, is a perfect example of diversity as an adult should see it.  But when it comes to diversity among people, most of us adults continue to understand diversity as a child does.

The children’s version focuses on all of diversity’s unimportant aspects, and then tries to force them into importance.  Think of it this way:  whereas an adult will buy a pack of M&Ms for their peanutty and chocolaty goodness, children will always divvy them up by the yellow ones, blue ones, reds, etc.  Among my childhood friends, the brown ones were never that popular.. nothing especially exciting about brown chocolate.  As adults, we’ve forgotten why the various colors were so important to us.  But not the producers of M&Ms.  They understand clearly that the child defines and responds to diversity (in this case the various colors) for diversity’s sake and nothing more. 

Also clearly understanding this are the typical intellectuals, political drones and media figures who somehow feel it’s their calling to manage public opinion. Their use of child stimuli, however, is a bit more nefarious.   First, they know that the children’s version of diversity is not limited to children.  Far from it.  It enchants minds of all ages, in fact.   They also know, as history and experience so vividly show, that using this children’s version to sway or polarize public opinion is as easy as convincing a class of third graders that people with brown eyes are superior to those with blue or green eyes, or vice versa (it’s pretty damn easy to do..).  That the child or adult would ever believe that such an insignificant detail could possibly matter is the fundamental flaw of the children’s version of diversity.   

Many of those who understand diversity the children’s way feel hard-pressed to address some of the foulest blunders of our human nature. Racism and ethnocentrism are but a couple.  They ponder the causes of socioeconomic divides and tension along racial and ethnic statistical lines all over the globe.  And they’re not off the mark when they point to the senseless fear, hatred and intolerance of anything that’s ‘different’ from one’s own familiarity as culprits.    But they get sidetracked with the idea that the solution lies in the proactive reversal of the fear, hatred and intolerance of the ‘other’.  Not that such causes are less than noble, but they fail to identify and attack the root of the problem.  There’s something about going from total exclusion of the black guy to mandatory inclusion of the black guy.. for diversity’s sake, that simply doesn’t wash.

The root of the problem, that so few seem able to identify, is found precisely in the belief that race matters; in the belief that ‘ethnicity’ is synonymous with ‘significant difference’.

It gets even more twisted when they confuse a) those who see diversity the adult way, with b) the racists, bigots and other idiots who can’t even spell ‘supremacy’, much less exude it.  This happens because neither a) nor b) accept the supposed standard solution that has been ushered in by the gallant knights of the children’s version.  That (b) would oppose such measures is obvious. But for so many not to be able to distinguish (a) from (b) in terms of ‘why’ is just.. pathetic.    

Those of us that comprehend diversity the adult way also blame the same senseless fear and intolerance for the virtually unstoppable human farce of ethnic and racial conflict.   We also wish it would stop.. that everyone could just ‘get along’.  We’re at odds with those who see it the children’s way, not because we’re intolerant or simply too stupid to acknowledge and respect difference, but because we focus more on the profound differences among humans than the superficial differences among races and ethnicities.  We understand one clear detail, the irony of which is too heavy for those of the children’s version to accept  -  Search every soul at fault for the senseless fear and intolerance toward the ‘other’… and you’ll find that every one of them also adheres to a child’s perspective of diversity… that troubled mentality that never stops mining for importance where there is none.

And so we have the reality of the world we live in today. In terms of race and ethnicity, it’s molded and dominated by a children’s version of diversity.  Aspects of our humanity that truly don’t matter have to somehow matter anyway because we continue to falsely believe that they matter. 

Until such nonsense ceases, don’t hold your breath for any realization of solutions.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Historically, social rights have been created and advanced thanks to the actions of political movements on the part of large collectives.  The Independence movement and the Mexican Revolution represented, in certain form, justifiable struggles for liberty, equality, and well-being of all Mexicans.  From these massive social movements, primarily the Revolution, such rights were achieved as access to land, union organization, and education among others…  This march signified the movement of one of the largest academic communities in the country, demanding the right to a fair financing for the institution and, above all, the respect of another social right, today consecrated in the Constitution of the Republic:  university autonomy.

La Gaceta – 11 Oct, 2010, pg.6

Part 2:  The Melodramatic Politics Part

Political distemper always trumps philosophical delusion – in the public forum and minds of the masses, that is.  This is because politics is about capturing the imagination in order to cultivate popular support.. and philosophy captures no part of any society that turns away from the burden of thinking on its own.  It simply doesn’t arouse the emotions, much less generate any great number of votes.  Currently here in Guadalajara, we’re all witness to a conflict evidently of biblical proportion.. not that its epic tone makes it unique in any way.   The clash and all the juicy splatter that comes with it occurs in this case between the public University of Guadalajara (UdeG) and the state government, namely the governor himself, Emilio Gonzalez Marquez.  

The ordeal at hand is a question of funds.  UdeG is a federal and state funded institution of higher learning, which over the last 85 years has benefited an enormous number of Mexicans, many of whom would never have possessed the money necessary to attend any private university.   The students pay nothing, although entry is quite competitive (that’s good).. unless one of your parents works there and/or is on the faculty.. then somehow you’re able to cut to the front of the line.. hey – but just zip it, eh?  I’m not sure anyone’s supposed to know that.   Since 2007, Emilio’s first year as governor, the state budget has increased by nearly 50%.   During the same time, the state’s  ‘UdeG portion’ of the budget has increased by only around 25%.  UdeG points out that this difference in budget increases has amounted to a total net loss of 701,000,000 pesos of university funds that the state (Emilio Gonzalez, essentially) is unjustly ‘holding back’.  

Over the last couple of months, there have been over 50 marches, demonstrations.. however you wish to call them.  Students and teachers from one department or another, or from this or that public high school (also which belong to UdeG), on any given day have taken to the streets, heading to Casa Jalisco downtown where the state government offices are located.   Their demand:  Emilio – you have no right to take away our right to an education!  Give us our money!!  Education is Mexico’s only route to a better future!!! 

Really, now… who´s going to argue with that? 

But why such bellowing and fist pounding animosity toward Emilio Gonzalez?

Well, he is the state governor.. so, that’s a good place to start.  But more importantly, he’s a member of the National Action Party (PAN), which is Mexico’s most conservative political party.  Conversely, and equally as important, UdeG’s leadership and faculty have shifted greatly to the left over the last 20 years.  But Emilio’s greatest political deficit is his personality.   No one would intelligently attempt to defend the PAN by drawing your attention to Emilio.   Would you ever defend the legendary status of a group like KISS with such a priceless gem as “I was made for lovin’ you baby, you were made for lovin’ me…”? (some of you actually would.. but please, let’s not step into that twilight zone..)   While Emilio is nowhere nearly as creepy as that, he’s exposed enough character flaws in the last four years to be branded an imbecile by even most of his would-be followers.  So it’s quite easy, then, to set the stage with Emilio Gonzalez as the antihero who turns out to be the eternal fool as the tragedy unfolds, stubbornly and obtusely holding back funds that are so dire for the survival of public education.

 

Political scandal or political stunt, the fiasco as a whole seems to have achieved complete distraction from the fact that the real fools here are the supposed academics hitting the streets.  And why would I say this?  Because I’m in bed with Emilio scratching his hairy ass?  You ask any one of these students on the street precisely where the generous quantity of funds that UdeG really does receive actually go.  They haven’t a clue nor could they care any less.  For if they did, they’d be marching instead to the homes of those who run the university, demanding that they come clean and allow an independent, external audit. 

A real anal exam of an audit is something UdeG leaders will go to any length to avoid (the last UdeG chancellor actually did try to have this done, but it was too far a reach.  He was involuntarily retired from his post by others who really do run things at UdeG.  He put up a legal fight to get his post back.. and subsequently wound up dead in his home.. a suicide.. go figure).   But of course it’s not because there’s anything to hide, claro que no.  It’s simply a matter of safeguarding the university’s constitutionally granted autonomy.  Yes it’s true.  University autonomy is indeed protected by the Mexican Constitution, just as it should be.  Autonomy, however, when you consider what the word really means, is not a term you can seriously apply to students, teachers, and university leaders in the streets clamoring for more pesos because the recent increase in state funds wasn’t enough evidently to ensure that learning happens. 

Moreover,  it doesn’t take a fifth grade education to know that the money they’re demanding won’t result in one teacher pay raise more, nor even a cheap bar of soap in the UdeG latrines.   UdeG is not hurting for funds.  None of what UdeG lacks for the benefit of its students or teachers (which is a lot) is due to any shortage of state and federal money.  The political movement its leaders seek to advance, however, is hurting for power.  The students in the streets, all too clearly it seems, are oblivious.. in so much as they think that this is truly about the future of education in Jalisco.   But you want to talk about autonomy?  Ask them or the teachers what consequences they’ll face if they don’t cooperate and participate in the march.  

There’s something to be learned here about the consequence of trying to ensure the right to a costless education for everyone.  And it’s not the realization of the political ideal of equality, much less the danger we somehow like to think it represents for snooty rich people.   The consequence illustrated by these marches is derived from something deeper than politics.  It originates in our belief that a right to an education is an ideal that must be fought for, attained, and defended.. and furthermore in our unwillingness to question the institutions responsible for ‘providing’ it  -  especially, as this case so clearly shows, those institutions that don’t generate their own funds. 

Now I realize that I must sound absolutely delirious to say something like the above.  But if I’ve at least maintained your attention in doing so, allow me then to explain exactly what I mean.

Part 3:  The Cheap Philosophy Part

The importance of an education is unquestionably clear to any of us with the knowledge and experience necessary to advance ourselves over a lifetime.  The emphasis that we give to the fact, however, possesses an authority over our imaginations and sensibilities that, all too often, we submit to far too blindly and irresponsibly.

What people mean when they say that everyone should have the right to an education is that everyone should have the benefit of being recognized by society that he or she is capable.  But how do we recognize such capability?  We allow the university to be the arbiter, to determine for us who’s competent and who isn’t.  Even though any university that’s worth half a cent would reveal to any student the foolishness in such a blind faith.  But whatever.   The real point that people want to make is that no one should be denied the opportunity to bow before the exalted authority and bestower of knowledge, good (enough) grades in hand, and be officially anointed … “qualified”.    Yes, I know.. that’s laying it on a bit thick, hence, our tendency toward the far simpler outcry for “the right to an education”.   It rolls off the tongue so much more easily.  Never mind that real knowledge and experience in most fields of study are quite attainable with complete independence from the university’s blessing. 

And then from there many of us somehow make our way to the more controversial argument that education should be “free”.. yes, another virtually angelic term, equally as pardoned from scrutiny as the word “education” itself.  The ‘free’ argument, barely able to support itself upon the thin “right to an education” logic that sustains it, easily gets caught up in emotional whirlwinds and reduced to toddler blocks.

So we rework the whole idea, coming up with something like this:  “It’s imperative for the advancement of any society that it’s members be educated.. or inversely, the less people we educate, the worse off our society will become”.  And though the term ‘education’ here is still forced like a puzzle piece that doesn’t belong, this argument is much more compelling to be sure. The idea resonates especially clear here in Mexico, or any country that has a long political and cultural tradition of the big people ‘taking care’ of the little people, and the belief that society can only advance for the better of all – with ‘education’.  Of course this equalizing of the masses rarely if ever truly happens in the real world, ruled by human nature.. but is it not fascinating how an overwhelming number of us remain devoted to the idea?

Again, no one can overstate the importance of education.  What’s misguided is that we refer to it as though it’s an entitlement, and from there that everyone should have a right to it.  Philosophically, it doesn’t wash.  There’s no philosophical basis for the right to breathe, either.  Honestly now, with no system or law granting us the right to breathe… for free.. is it not curious that we’re all somehow able to get away with it anyway?  .. even victims of asthma and lung cancer?  A bit of a stretch?  Yeah, maybe..  but even those locked away in a prison cell for years, who have the fewest rights among any of us, can educate themselves if they choose to.  No one ‘needs’ a ‘right’ to an ‘education’, and I think we all know it.

“Everyone should have the right to a golden ticket” is what we’re really trying to say.  Nonetheless, we continue to force this word ‘education’ into that place.  Why we insist on the latter has everything to do with politics and virtually nothing to do with sound logic.  We like to think that a college degree is an indicator of education.  It’s not.  It indicates that we probably passed exams in a classroom.  The political side of the coin does not require us to consider what exactly the point would be in everyone being entitled to and receiving a golden ticket.  But we can be sure that it would cease to be anything golden, if it ever was in the first place.

When we talk about the importance of education, it should always remain fundamentally clear that it’s not the university’s role to ‘educate’ anyone.  That’s our job, as individual free citizens, whether we attend a university or not.  The purpose of a university or any school should be nothing other than to be shamelessly exploited by people who want to learn, rather than blindly exalted by those who worry endlessly about exams and put all their faith in the golden ticket.

While it’s perfectly possible that a state and federally funded institution be a standard setter for efficiency and positive results, it’s always far from likely.  Our nature is that we produce and improve these qualities through an instinct of self preservation in the face of competition.  UdeG is not in this position, nor is it by any means an exception to the norm among government funded institutions.  It hasn’t to worry about going broke.. ever.  There’s no motive therefore among the leadership to provide anywhere near the best service to the students.  After all, where would the students get off complaining and demanding anyway?  UdeG is providing their ‘education’… for ‘free’.   Should the students not instead be kissing the university chancellor’s feet for divinely defending their right to an education?

Oh, but how they do.  You really think it was the students who thought up the idea of filling the streets and howling at Emilio for more pesos to fund their ‘free’ and ‘autonomous’ education?  Of course we’re talking about Emilio, who’s going to argue, right?  And then what?  Do you really think that the same students will organize, demanding and pressuring to know just what will be done with this money if UdeG gets it?

As long as there’s a golden ticket at stake, don’t count on it.   

Surely their intention here was not the sad irony that no one can help but notice…

categories: culture, education, society
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It appears this post has nothing to do with Mexico… but it will by the time I finish the next post, whenever that’ll be.  In order to rant about Guadalajara’s current public education fiasco underway, it seems to me necessary to be clear that I have a genuine point of view concerning the matter, and hopefully avoid appearing to be merely sucking up to one political party or another…

Unique are those who, at one point or another in their lives, know exactly what it is they want to accomplish, and are endowed with both the talent to make it happen and the intellect to maintain why they must.  Even among them, not all possess the passion for it necessary to combat the fear of the painful obstacles that inevitably will crush a good number of them, sometimes permanently…  obstacles, often hidden away in the fog, which clearly intimidate the rest of us from even daring to try any wild dream on for size.

We often allude to these individuals, or their examples, when we talk about the importance of education.  But it should be pointed out, at least for the sake of argument, that education is not what produces these individuals.. much less is it any education ‘system’.  Now in saying this, there is no such implication that they lack education.  Indeed, most of them exude it in some form.  But ask any of them how they learned what they know, and you’ll wait only in vain for a response that mentions studying hard each semester, getting As on every exam, and graduating at the top of the class.. true as it may be for perhaps a handful of them.

They’re proactive learners, meaning they learn via their own will.  They don’t study for the purpose of making good grades.  They might not be in school at all.  They’re certainly not concerned about who’s a genius or who’s lucky and who isn’t.  What occupies them and drives them is a clear personal vision they’ve set out to realize.  They learn up and down, front to back precisely what they deem necessary to complete the task.  If the wisdom of an expert in any field is needed, they’ll find one.  If a university degree materializes in the process, whatever.  If it doesn’t, whatever.  They have no more time in a day than the rest of us, yet they tend to make more progress in one day than the rest of us do in a week or a month.  But there’s nothing phenomenal about this in itself.  On the contrary, it’s quite natural for anyone who knows where they’re coming from and precisely where they’re going.

For those of us who don’t, which is most of us, there’s an education system, promising a bright future for anyone that decides to throw down a small fortune with high hopes for what’s behind door one, two, or three… and perhaps some other doors too, maybe with.. numbers, on them also.. I don’t know.

It’s rather curious that we continue to live during a time in which entire societies continue to accept the legitimacy and authority of the university degree virtually without question.  We ‘know’, for instance, that people with degrees have brighter futures than those that don’t.  We ‘know’ that it’s responsible as young parents to start saving from the time of our children’s infancy for their higher education some years down the road.  Company execs ‘know’ that a university degree is the mark of higher qualification.  Relatively young scholars ‘know’ that an important milestone has been reached whenever all the tasseled square hats go flying…

For the grand majority of us who do not know what we want to accomplish in life, graduation is something to be most proud of.  It signifies that we at least committed ourselves to.. something.. and saw it through.  We’ve successfully made the gallant leap over that dismal pit of lower humanity, already overfilled with society’s less fortunate, arduously toiling their lives away in ugly surroundings just to make ends meet.. unqualified, evidently, for any greater role.   But not us.  We’ve been awarded the golden ticket, redeemable for that one thing that we’ve aspired to for the last brain mashing however many years:  a job.

Bueno.. a comfy, well paying, non-sweating my ass off and getting filthy for peanuts and for some chew-spittin supervisor kind of job. 

Some might stop me dead in my tracks here and demand that I retract the word “job” for the more favorable “career”, noting the opportunities for advancement within their workplace that simply don’t exist for the cleaning people, maintenance, factory or cafeteria workers.  Some may point out, and rightly so, that if I want to be an architect, I must go to school and learn at least the dynamics of a house of cards.. that if I want to be a doctor, there’s no chance without medical school.. A would-be lawyer will not be any such prestigious fellow without passing the Bar.   Most agreed.

But there are people who want to be lawyers, doctors, and architects… and then there are others who want specifically to accomplish things which require them to be lawyers, doctors and architects in order to do so.  There’s a significant difference between the two.  The former see the educative process as the principal means to an end of achieving the title.  The latter, focused on how the material of the educative process conforms to their vision far beyond it, merely pick up a title along the way.  The former aspire to secure a well paying job.  The latter are the ones who will likely create jobs, if they’re successful.  And so is the case with many other fields of study.  In fact, the degrees offered through many of these other fields of study are not even necessary, if even useful for the latter.  For the former, yes.

This is the rather foul paradox of the education system.  The proactive learners, most of whom are such because, again, they know exactly what they’re looking to accomplish, are the ones least in need of the ultimate prize any bureaucratic educative system can offer:  the degree – that golden ticket.  The rest of us, however, would not even bother with higher education were it not for the degree.  And how much do we really learn in the process that will ever be useful to us much less retainable in the future when we don’t know what we truly want to do with our lives… other than get ‘a job’.. or for you picky ones, ‘the best possible boost to whatever successful career door number three presents to us’.

Now the point here is not to diminish the importance of jobs, and certainly not the importance of having them.  I, for one, am sure as hell glad to have one.  Some would argue that landing a good position, even a good starting position, in any market is certainly an ‘accomplishment’ to shoot for.  And for those of us who lack the vision to use our personal talents to forge our own paths, I can agree that the term ‘accomplishment’ could be reduced in its meaning to fit into such a context… as long as the arguer agrees that these good starting positions would not even exist were it not for a few unique individuals who apply a completely different meaning to the term.

It’s not that the education system lies and misleads systematically in the interest of raking in boatloads of cash.. though it is true that demand is demand and business is business.  The problem is the unquestioning attitude that we all seem to have toward the education system. It allows us too easily to believe that it will take our hand and guide us through the fog to the promised land of financially happy and medically and dentally secure futures.

By the time we’ve gone through the whole rigmarole of the university.. being ‘educated’ on its terms, studying what it tells us we must study, making the grade when it tells us we’ve made it, and far too often accepting or not accepting what it tells us we should accept or not accept (in case you ever wondered what really makes the degree so attractive to employers)… we become so accustomed to the fog and the cautionary measures necessary to maneuver in it, that we either forget or overlook the fact that we haven’t been led out of it in any way.   Or at least in the euphoria of clinching that diploma, it certainly doesn’t seem as thick as it once did.   But it is.  Education, in the end, does not deliver us from the fog, because the fog does not represent a lack of education.  It represents far more precisely a lack of vision.  And the university offers no degree in personal vision.

But it’s not by any means a complete waste, either.  After all, most of us will get that dignified job.. somewhere, and we’ll earn enough money with it to buy dignified clothing and other nice things.. not to mention pay back an ever more inflated price for that golden ticket that got us there.  Sadly, for far too many, by the time the bloody thing ever gets paid for, a quick scan over everything learned up to that point in life shows at best only scant traces of whatever was picked up in the university. 

But there’s also the satisfaction of having escaped the abyss of everlasting factory work, yes indeed… only to discover that Monday looks no better from the higher ground.  The daily grind is still the daily grind.  We smoke the same cigarrettes, drink the same beer, and watch the same ridiculous tv shows as the supposedly less qualified.  Sure, the physical stress of warehouse work has been evaded.  Hooray.   Now we can bask in the glory of emotional stress of the office, accompanied by an obsession with our waist lines, flabby arms and flat asses because, alas.. we lack the necessary daily physical stimulus to maintain them… unless we waste another sliver of life away with regular visits to the gym…

Eventually, perhaps while perusing the “self help and personal enrichment” section of our local bookstore, we must ask ourselves – “Have I ever really known what I wanted to do with my life in the first place?”  An extreme few ever possess the good fortune of an honest answer of “yes”.  For the rest of us, should we believe that one day we might discover what we were truly born for, the greatest fortune we can hope for is that we at least enjoy what we do in the meantime. 

Do you?

What? … you think I’m being cynical for cynicism’s sake?