[Light blogging, as I have been busy this week. Well, okay, drunk. Anyway, here's a slight remix of one of my old leftovers, a 1999 CNSNews piece.]
Cambridge, MA - Two years ago this month, Alan Lowenstein, associate professor of philosophy at Harvard University, came to a fateful conclusion. "I suddenly realized that the oppression of western technology extended to my own life," he explained. "That's when I got rid of my computer, threw away my Brooks Brothers suits, changed my name to Grok and moved into a cave."
A passionate critic of Euro-American "linear thought," Grok is one of a growing number of college professors around the nation who have relocated to caves, mud huts and makeshift sweat lodges to demonstrate their disdain for western culture and technology. For Grok, 44, the move to a cave was a natural step in his intellectual progression.
"My dissertation at Columbia synthesized the seminal works of Jacques Lacan, Derrida, and Michel Foucault," says Grok, referring to the influential French deconstructionist philosophers. "I was able to prove, conclusively, that conclusiveness is not conclusive."
The 1988 dissertation, entitled "Beyond the (Dis)Integration of Post-Modern Post-Toasties Pair 'o Dimes and Paradigms: Look at How Clever I Am," created a stir in academic circles and landed Lowenstein a prestigious teaching position at Harvard. From there, he honed his cutting-edge research.
"I began to deconstruct everything I could get my hands on," says Grok. "The Old Testament, Shakespeare, Dick and Jane, a 1967 J.C. Whitney catalog, the Boston phone book, you name it. I showed how everything is a lie, that everything could be deconstructed. Well, except Deconstruction, obviously."
When he earned tenure in 1991, Grok decided to broaden his philosophical research. "I realized that deconstructing literature was overly limiting. It was clear that other fields of inquiry could benefit from deconstruction."
It was then that Grok published a series of influential articles in which he deconstructed the sciences. "I initially showed that the so-called 'scientific method,' so treasured by the self-appointed high priests of science, was nothing but a bizarre ritual of the industrialist phallocracy," said Grok. "From there, it was a short intellectual leap to disprove the reality of the periodic tables, gravity and algebra."
Despite being elected chairman of the Philosophy Department in 1995, Grok felt an intellectual void. "I needed some way to explain why literature and science were so bad, so putrid, so incredibly vile," said Grok. "That's when it dawned on me. They were the products of western culture."
The shocking realization lead Grok to a new stream of research that unveiled the oppressive nature of western civilization. He immersed himself in the writings of third world revolutionaries Franz Fanon, Rigoberta Menchu and Ted Rall. With CUNY professor Leonard Jeffries, he documented NASA's theft of earth-orbiting satellites from the K!ung bushmen of sub-Saharan Africa.
"This stream of research completely obliterated the thin propaganda veneer of western cultural hegemony," says Grok, proudly. "Plus, I got a fat merit raise out of it."
Strangely ill at ease, Grok was about to have an epiphany. "It was at the Modern Language Association meeting in Chicago in '97," he explains. "I was chairing a session on the link between Malibu Barbie dolls and the Guatemalan counterinsurgency movement. Then it occurred to me... here we were, complaining about western science and culture, using animated Power Point slide presentations. At the Four Seasons, no less. It was just a tad hypocritical."
The scene caused Grok to re-examine his own life. "I suddenly realized then that I, too, was a victim of white male Eurocentric western culture. My brainwashing was so complete, so insidious, it took forty-two years to discover it," he says.
"I think it all goes back to that Stingray bike I got in fifth grade," adds Grok, who grew up in affluent suburban Winnetka, Illinois. "Like other victims, I became fixated on material things. There was actually time, before graduate school, when I considered getting a job."
After the conference, Grok vowed to eliminate the trappings of western culture in his own life. First to go were his personal computer, his BMW sedan, his fashionable Back Bay apartment, and his expensive wardrobe. They were replaced by a typewriter, a bicycle, a phone-free studio apartment and secondhand clothes.
To his chagrin, Grok eventually realized that the even the low-tech alternative technologies were also contaminated by western culture. "The wheels on the bicycle, for example," notes Grok. "Only western civilization would be as arrogant to speak of 'perfect' circles."
Grok says that each of his attempts to replace western technology brought more frustration. "Last year, when I was lying over a heating grate in my cardboard box, I realized I was merely a pawn of western industrialists. Like the developing world, I had been seduced and entrapped by their addictive steam and cardboard technology."
A Simple Plan
Over the last year, Grok continued to cleanse his personal life of western culture and technology. While he is "not quite there yet," he said he is finally happy in his 8' by 4' by 4' dirt cave along the banks of the Charles River.
"Finally, I have broken the cycle of oppression," he says, violently hacking up a thick clot of blood-streaked mucus. He refuses my offer to contact medical assistance. Noting that "western medicine is merely a front for the hegemonic pharmaceutical industry," Grok applies another leech to his chest.
"Like the indigenous peoples, I have everything I need here," says Grok. "Especially stray dogs."
Like the prairie bison to the Lakota Sioux, stray dogs are an important source of hides, meat and milk for Grok. A committed animal rights activist, he does not skin or eat the dogs until they have died of natural causes.
Grok says his simplified, non-western lifestyle has made him a more spiritual man.
"Each day, I pray to the dog god for more stray dogs," he says. He has even sculpted a totem of the dog god, made entirely of dried dog excrement. He considered cave paintings of the dog god, but rejected the idea as "too European."
Grok's dramatic commitment to western technology-free living has inspired others in the academic community. One convert is Eegah, chairperson of the department of gender studies at the University of Michigan, who now lives in a creek bed outside Ann Arbor.
"There is something very liberating, very empowering about abandoning phallocentric culture," says Eegah, who was until recently known as Katherine Robinson. "Cave dwelling authenticates our visceral experience, releasing us from the bond of western patriarchal oppression."
As an example, Eegah notes that she is no longer dependent on money. "I have adopted the traditional barter system of non-western, matriarchal societies. I get all the furs and meat I need by having sex with hobos."
Eegah says that non-western living has other advantages. "I have been liberated from western standards of female beauty. I no longer shave my armpits, bathe, or see the dentist," said Eegah, noting that she has lost "fewer than a tooth per year" since going non-Western in 1996.
Duke University english professor Mognuk, formerly known as Phillip Turner, tries to bring his own commitment to non-western thought directly into the classroom - or in his case, classcave. Instead of using the department Xerox machine to print syllabi and exams, Mognuk painstakingly copies each, by hand, onto tree bark using frog blood for ink. The process is made more difficult by the lack of daylight before spring semester.
"The Xerox machine is an avatar of the sterility and conformity of European-based civilization," explains Mognuk, stroking his mud-encrusted beard. "And it is full of evil spirits."
Kristin Hawley, Duke sophomore and a student in Mognuk's popular class, E2605 - Fire Bad, says the unconventional course has opened her eyes to the evils of western hegemony. "Before this course, I had always assumed that Fire Good," say Hawley. "It wasn't really my fault, I was simply parroting the western culture propaganda. You know, 'Fire Good, Fire Good.'"
"Because of Professor Mognuk, I now know that Fire Bad - Fire Very Bad," adds Hawley. "I finally feel my parents are getting something out of that $35,000 tuition."
More Research Needed
Back in his Cambridge cave, Grok is stirred from his sleep by the blaring horns of taxis on Massachusetts Avenue. It is a bitterly cold January morning, and he insulates himself by slathering his skin with a thick slab of dog lard and wrapping himself in extra dogskins. Struggling to clear the snow blocking the cave entrance, Grok emerges, squinting against the bright sunlight as it reflects off the snow and the Boston skyscrapers.
"That is exactly what I'm fighting against," says Grok. "The blight and despoilage and glare of western culture." He will spend the next hour foraging for a breakfast of nuts and tree bark in the shadows of Boston's skyline, with little success.
Hungry and discouraged, Grok attempts to mug a passing jogger by jumping on his back. However, at 5'6", 123 pounds and weakened by spasmodic coughing, he poses little threat. In sympathy, the jogger offers Grok a granola bar, which he hungrily accepts.
"I know it's processed food," says Grok apologetically. "But I used force to take it from my prey. My research shows that predatory scavenging is an authentic non-western method of wealth redistribution."
Clearing the snow from his makeshift twig sundial, Grok notes the time. "Damn," he exclaims. "I'm late for my lecture." He painfully hobbles toward campus wearing Wonderbread wrappers on his feet -- one of his few remaining concessions to western technology.
While it has been tough at times, Grok says he has no regrets. "Western culture is a cancer, and I'm committed to wiping it out. Plus, the whole cave-dwelling thing should help with my promotion case and journal articles."
Meanwhile, Grok says he plans one more fling with western technology.
"I have to take a plane to Paris next week," he notes sheepishly. "To pick up my French Légion d'honneur."