Another Library Learning Experience: Power

Today I attempted to check out a DVD on Bronislaw Malinowski from the university library where I teach, giving myself a good 15 minutes to check out and walk to class.  After handing the DVD to a clerk, I was shown a screen inviting me to prove that I am an employee/instructor.  I was told to “go downstairs,” where apparently such things are certified.

The fat college boy at the book check out showed me the same screen.  So I offered these tokens as proof that I am in fact an instructor at this university:

1.  A university issued ID which states “FACULTY/STAFF”, issued for academic year 2012-1013.

2.  A student from a former class who happened to stand next to me at the check out, verifying that am an instructor (at least officially, in not in spirit).

Anyone could say that, I was told.  Can anyone fabricate a University ID in order to check out a stupid 101 video?  No reply.  Suspicion and power have come together.

I was told to log in to their “system” and verify.  After entering my univerity ID, and my password, I was denied.  Again I attempted.  Four times.  No luck.  At this point I was late for the class which I supposedly do not teach, and had enough of the fat boy who now added smugness to his layers of humanity.  He’d had clearly caught a phony trying to check out a DVD, and do who knows what to it?

A supervisor came over, because one of us was making something of a scene, and attempted to investigate the matter.  Finding her system still insisting that I am not employed by this university (an omen?), I was left using my own laptop to prove it.  I entered the same password and ID, and viola, showed them my university status, my teaching schedule (“See, genius, I am teaching a class RIGHT NOW!”), and paycheck stubs (undignifying in itself).  Am I now proven?

No.  One cannot log in to their system when one is not an employee.  Being no longer employeed, as far as the library was concerned, of course I could not, by definition, prove that I was an employee.  My own computer was not in their system of things bearing authority to make me an employee.

After the obvious truth of my story was accepted, reluctantly, on the basis of my own log in (of course, I could’ve faked the university home page, and my own course pages on it!), ID, and apparently mostly a desire to see me go away, I reached for the DVD, and it was no longer there.  The fat boy stood tall, his face twitching, and insisted he gave me the DVD, his arms behind his back.

Now, I was pretty livid at this point, but I know he didn’t give me no DVD.  Where is it?  I gave it to you, his face twitching.  He waddled off, and I told the supervisor that I did not have the DVD.  Should I prove that too?

I saw the DVD hidden away on a return cart, and pointed it out.  The fat boy apparently not only took the high road of insisting that I was making up my story, but then proceeded to hide / misplace the DVD (behind his back, at first?) when it turned out I was not either of two things: Not of sound mind nor  a liar.  Will he be asked to prove he is an employee, and not a liar?  No.

After getting my DVD, and demanding an apology, I was told that “we’re sorry you’re upset”.  Right.  Not that we are causing you to miss your class we insist you are not teaching, for reasons that have nothing to do with anything existing in reality.  I left, and literally hiked up hill in the snow to class, which had not yet given up on me, and some few remained.

My effort to acquire this obligatory 101 DVD came to full fruiting, as I found that the DVD player was locked behind a door in the podium-cabinet, presumably so someone does not steal it, or play unauthorized DVDs on their system.

So I gave an impromptu lecture on the transformation of the PNG economy after WWII, and the translation of capitalism by way of military-industrial commodities into native cargo cults: their more honest if caricatured rendering of what we wrongly call “democracy”.  Ironically, the greek term that gave us “economy” was translated by early Latin-Catholic powers as “dispensation,” and can we really doubt that we live in the dispensation which makes economy religion, and Mammon our god?

Regarding security: the problem at the library (my second run in with libraries in a year) is not that it attempts to restrict my freedom to check out DVDs so I don’t have to lecture.  It is that if I am to have an identity, I cannot prove this myself: it must come from their system.  Now, did their system of proof by entering a log in on their system change, as a result of my having proven it false, and circular?  Nope.  The system has a durability which no individual can hope for, and the next instructor who finds herself not in the system will not change it.

What can change such a thing?  Not proof that it is in error, and circular.  Not some higher authority.  Maybe a permanent power outage.  Only someone inside the system, willing to impose the truth on the system, and thus risk becoming herself outside the system (violating policy).  God will not impose truth on a system, and when the highest authority is generated by the system itself (rather than the reverse), there is no human authority able to impose truth.  Someone must break from policy, rules, traditions, and risk violating his or her standing, to show that the system arbitrarily decides who is employed, and who is not; not students, not the employees, not the paycheck, nor the ID itself issued by the University.  The system, in other words, creates people who lack courage, and this becomes essential to the people in it.  Now, imagine a system which has no authority but one it creates, and so it cannot be that someone else will show the truth of the system?

Systems of power are creative, not repressive.  What sort of people are created by a system of surveillance, demanding obedience to an everchanging, undefined standard, wholly imagining membership without any practical way of demonstrating such (because it comes with no rights), which counts heads in the pews and allots funds accordingly, and counts income as tithing when it is good for the system, and income when it is good for the system?  Discouraged people.  Sometimes angry ones, often dissatisfied ones.  And persons eager to impose some new truth on others, often by taking what they have learned about power, and reformulating it in some slightly altered way.  What will change it?

Nothing, for the system is designed not for eternal duration, but to cure us of our Gentiles notions of power, authority, credentials, policy, and making truth external itself.  How could we learn such a thing, but by sad experience?  God cannot impose the truth on us, without reproducing the system of authorization, credentials, and institutionalized power he seeks to change.

If there is a voice that one must know in order to be saved, that voice cannot require credentials, sponsors, ID, and so forth.  It must be its own verification, which is to say:  Whichever voice we follow, is the voice of our god.  We create “god” when we follow a certain voice.  There is one who plays at being a god (for our sakes, it seems) who will not, however, fashion himself into our image of a god: full of retribution, vengeance, score-settling, and reward to those sycophants who treat him with the honors of a tyrant.  His voice, or the “name,” is the thing which apparently must be heard/felt/known (all three at once, presumably) if we are create something other than a “great work” showing forth the foolishness and abominations of the Gentiles.

Sidney Rigdon’s work (D&C 35) continues to show forth these things, and our experience of them in “Mormonism” is not unlike the PNG experience of cargo cults: it diagrams clearly the truth of the system, and rendering it efficient, hopes to teach us one of two things: How to create our own system with ourselves as ruler; or to reject it and hope for something different, and maybe even try to make something not in the image of the system, but altogether different from it (and not in reaction to it).  That is to say, Church is a diagram which shows us how power works in this dispensation.  To find Church objectionable, is to find our modern “dispensation” objectionable.  We cannot change either one, for one exists to teach us about the other.  The church, one might say, is a metonym of the modern military-industrialized-consumption authority-seeking dispensation; it can train us to function effectively in that system, or teach us by often painful lessons that it we want nothing to do with it.