THE BULLDOG TYRANNY
The Real Price of a Yale Education
Handsome Dan is adorable. Cherished and privileged, he struts around the football field, his torso, bull-like, his snout smashed up against his face, cutely pugnacious. When he is displayed at a game, our stomping and applause expose our identification with him. Ugly though he may be, we glory in him. Lurking beneath this engaging identification, however, is a shadow, a dire, pugilistic will to win at whatever cost. No one gets in Dan’s way. Just look at that face! For mean manliness, it’s as ugly as it gets.
Here’s how this sort of thing translates. On July 4, 2001, a liberal minded woman found herself in a receiving line at Independence Park in Philadelphia preparing to meet our dubiously elected George W. When it came her time, she greeted him saying, “Mr. President, I hope you only serve four years. I’m very disappointed in your work so far.” The President, photo-op perfect, kept smiling and shaking her hand, but answered in a flash, “Who cares what you think?”
Bulldog Bulldog Bow-wow wow.
This bulldog quality is Yale testosterone. It makes Yalies winners. However, when this quality becomes a shadow mode of living, it becomes a kind of tyranny. It dominates over psychological wholeness, over relationships, and over the conduct of the affairs of the world. This takes a very great toll on well being. However shocking present tuition costs may be, this is the real price of a Yale Education.
Here is how I came to this assessment.
Every shadow is cast by an ideal. To really see the tyranny of the bulldog, you have to look at the Ideal Yale Man, most easily identified before the changes brought on by the shift in cultural values in the late Sixties.
A few years ago there appeared in the Yale Magazine a brilliantly construed history of the College, which traced the complex history of the Yale Man through His 300 year “disputation with Providence”, the benevolent guidance of God. In this, the ideal Yale Man has evolved continually. The gritty spirit of Dan has always been there, but in more superficial, but nonetheless articulated ways, the ideal changes every year. When I was a freshman in the final year of the 50’s, one had to be ”shoe”, referring to the scuffed (not NEW!) white bucks that were de rigeur for a Yale Man. “Shoe” was on the way out, and we only really heard about it early in freshman year, as we groped callowly for the correct sartorial image. (I believe tan bucks were just coming in) But in the four years I learned more enduring rules of understatement. One could be somewhat non-conformist or belligerent, but he should always be hidden under a herringbone jacket and chinos, or better, a three-piece suit. You could wear white bucks, but it was no longer shoe if you did. You’d better not wear any of those shiny kinds of socks. They should have a woolly texture, and NOT expose the leg. And for Godsake don’t wear rings, particularly a Yale Ring. Equally important, don’t be studied about any of the above. Some of these sartorial laws still rule me: you’ll never find anything in my sock drawer that isn’t woolly.
In these external ways the Ideal Yale Man is constantly, subtly evolving, but there are some things that have probably remained pretty much the same. There is an ironclad subtext. It goes something like this: as Yale is the center of the universe, one who is privileged enough to go there is entitled and superior. He must prove himself to be a leader–successful, preferably outstanding in his community–and make at least ONE original contribution to the world. This is probably understated. In the deep imagination of every Yalie, the Yale Man looms larger and even more imposing. Shadow subtext: you better measure up. Deeper still, the primal imaginal subtext of that pugnacious little bully, Handsome Dan.
I quickly mastered the sartorial requisites during freshman year, but I could not quite find my place in the curriculum. I knew I was fascinated by the basic circumstance of being human, so I majored in Human Culture and Behavior. But I found the subject tediously restrained by the scientific method, the slightest intuition having to be validated by the extreme rationality of statistics and controlled observation. I had an itch these disciplines could not scratch. Way up in the stacks, restless, I discovered Jung, and then Joseph Campbell. The latter’s landmark book, Hero with 1000 Faces, (published only 3 years before) was a dusty tome. Yet with this book, I caught fire. It set forth the hypothesis that mythology, indeed all story, contains within it a hidden universal language, one that is a secret key to the universal nature of human development and evolution. It set me on a path, which I have been on ever since; to discover the real meaning of this language. Nothing to do with The Yale Man, since these thinkers and their subject were not at ALL shoe. No one on the faculty seemed to know anything about them. Cast aside (however tolerated), I was on my own. I burned the midnight oil like some mediaeval alchemist studying the mysteries of human process, change, transformation, and evolution as expressed in the archetypal structures of all myths. This diversion was the beginning of the strange perspective I now have on Dan.
Our class of ’63 was special. Unbeknownst to us we were right in the transition from a Yale where the right to attend was largely hereditary towards a real meritocracy. We were also one of the last classes without women. In fact however, our real distinction was the way we were placed with regard to the groundswell of change in the national psyche that started in the mid-Sixties. We were right on the cusp, all turning 30, when Abbie Hoffman proclaimed, “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” I figure about three quarters of our class, imbued with the Ideal, kept rushing on, lemming like, down the road of the great white male race as we were programmed to do; one quarter dropped out and looked to alternatives.
After I graduated I went on to Harvard Divinity school where I did further research on the notion of psychological wholeness as it has been expressed in the great religious traditions of the world. Then I left th
e country for seven years in England and India. I thought that my reasons for leaving America had to do with a restlessness with the boring old fifties ways of doing things. I thought I was alone. But the baby boomers left behind obviously had the same sense, as they proceeded to generate the Counter Culture. The class of ’67, baby boomer freshmen when we were seniors, were to create revolutions in the University, toppling the Yale Man Image, like so many communist statues in the parks of Moscow in ‘89.
From Harvard I went to King’s College, Cambridge. These glorious institutions of learning, each the center of the Universe itself, provided me with plenty of glamorous ideals to identity with. Being a Harvard Man for a while and many years a Kingsman gave me cause to forget completely about the Yale Man or any aspirations I might have had, but they compounded imagistic tyrannies of their own, which have hounded me subtly ever since.
I went on to enjoy becoming a global person, achieving greater academic heights in India and thence to study Jungian Analysis in Zurich, finally ending up like many rolling stones of the Western world, in California, where we all continue to roll in place. My existential and mystical studies made me ripe for the Human Potential Movement, its cradle Esalen Institute, advanced mysteries from the East, commuting between California and Asia, becoming imbued with an entirely different notion of the nature of the human and our relation to the divine source of all things.
Over these years the ideal fell before the image of the whole: inclusiveness and equality became the new value. Yale, left way behind long ago, seemed the bastion of mid-Atlantic provincialism. The further I got from it, the more provincial it seemed.
The ideas of the human potential have been growing for almost a century and have sparked a revolution in psychology and philosophy of mind. These ideas have their own ideal, but it is inclusive. We are not just minds, but body-mind-emotional spirits. The integral whole has to be cultivated, not just the mind. Likewise, the reality of the world cannot be comprehended without a balanced consideration of all these dimensions. “Inclusive” means incorporating all that is negative, ideals as well as shadows, for it becomes clear that what lurks in those shadows are negating forces in each and every circumstance ready to sabotage the matter of our lives. Accepting and incorporating these forces opens the door to more feminine capacities within each man and masculine capacities within each woman. Incorporating these opposing forces and strengths, a horrendously arduous process mandated by the life force itself, creates the possibility of living the whole rather than striving for an ideal and suffering the sabotage of its shadows. This wholeness creates a global human being. My work with this was no longer theoretical, as I was able to develop these principles into hands-on forms that have over the years proved effective in reducing suffering and enhancing the fulfillment of many. The great majority of these individuals have been women, as their situation over the last 30 years has made them avid proponents of wholeness and hungry for the kind of empowerment proffered through this work.
For 25 years I gave Yale nary a thought. When I was persuaded to attend the 25th Reunion. The forgotten truth was that I had made many hearty connections at Yale, a pleasure which alone justified participating in the reunion. From a more secure position within myself, however, I felt everywhere present the ghost of the Ideal Yale Man, its hidden tyranny present either in the nuanced display of success in the world or in the air of disappointment and subtle shame before other classmates. I sensed everyone was secretly calculating how he measured up. Practically everyone there was a lawyer, doctor, financier, or politico. Probably half the class didn’t come at all. Those I figured were either the few who so measure up to the ideal that they have no time for reunions or the many more who in their own estimation did not measure up to the Ideal and weren’t about to face off with it at any reunion.
For myself I went away with mixed feelings. I realized that almost everyone had in some way or another been the victim of the Ideal Yale Man, either flying into a possible embodiment of this paragon or oppressed by the failure to be so. At my most alienated, I was quite convinced I should have gone to Harvard as an undergraduate too.
Two subsequent reunions have seen a further development. By the thirty-fifth reunion, there seemed to be very little peacock strutting, but the matter of the heart was intact. Entering the room and discovering the youth inside of the classmates I had known was immensely touching. These are men known in the delirious time of youth, when, focused on our future bravado, we knew nothing of our true beauty or our innocence. But from this perspective, almost 40 years later, a bunch of older men had experienced enough of life’s tempering disappointments so that another sense arose, one of mutual compassion. We were somewhat less like an army of conquerors and rather more like a gaggle of pilgrims.
A recent (38th) mini-reunion in San Francisco evoked the affection that softened all the ways that men become suspicious of each other as they grow older. There was lots of alcohol, loud voices of forced joviality, a mood of old man camaraderie, and pin-drop silence in the discussion groups when one of the clan, displaying real courage, would share about the true vicissitudes of life. The class dinner had been scheduled at the prestigious Yacht club, but we were ensconced in a closed room with nary a view of the Bay.
As an adjunct to this West Coast Reunion, a small number of intrepid classmates ventured off with me after the reunion to Esalen Institute, cradle of the Human Potential Movement, perched on the ravishing cliffs of Big Sur with the waves of the Pacific pounding on the rocks below. This proximity to nature at the edge of our world, with its atmosphere of existential experimentation facing towards Asia, is as far from Yale and New Haven as it is possible to get and remain in this country.
For five days we worked together intensively using methods and measures of human wholeness and techni
ques that brought into sharp focus what I came to see as a distinct Yale ’63 syndrome. It was at once alarming in its coherence and touching in the brotherhood with which we discovered it together.
A book could be written on this subject, but here, a brief composite description of this syndrome will have to do: a basic neurosis in which psychological receptivity, the feminine, is suppressed under the macho arrogance of the rational male with bulldog toughness underneath. I call it a neurosis, because it had clearly done damage in the lives of each participant and constituted a hidden form of self-sabotage.
The Image of the Yale Man casts a bulldog shadow. This Shadow may take the form of arrogance, which compensates and hides inferiority with a tyrannous overlay of pedantry. It may manifest as false virtue; false in the sense that everything should be virtuous and virtue is selfless, therefore everything is tainted, creating a sense of shame, which accumulates over time.
This is all related to the repression of what is usually designated as “the feminine aspects” of the Self, by which I mean the focus on life (as opposed to world), the well-being of other human beings, feeling, intuition, and sensitivity. One hasn’t the right to be overtly creative or manifest intuitive perception. Only informed rationality in the real world has any validity. In one case this manifested in what is labeled “prefrontal escape”: the true sensitive, so suppressed under the jock identity, that affect seeps out at inopportune moments. Every time he touches on a circumstance that has any feeling content, he unavoidably tears up.
In many cases, the bulldog identifies with all the male characteristics and the rest is left to the wife. The Yale wife is the repository of these feminine aspects, a projection which enforces marital bondage, but creates expectation and a kind of imprisonment, which many women feel to be oppressive, undoubtedly contributing to the failure of many marriages. One wife was present in the group. She always had the insights to unlock the mysteries of the process. When I would make an intuitive observation, (chary of my own conditioning in this syndrome), I would ask her if that was what she saw as well. She usually had a definite instinctive grasp of the whole matter.
In describing these revelations, I do not want to perpetuate the fashionable feminist delusion that men should just quit it and be like women. Within the splendid ideal Yale Man and Handsome Dan is true manly power, the capacity for clarity and decisive action, even in the face of overwhelming odds. American history has been carried forward time and again by Yale men acting decisively upon Light and Truth. We for instance were able to enjoy our undergraduate excesses because of the prior generation of Yale men who came before us. The outcome of W.W.II was very much in doubt in all three theaters of the war, when, in the Pacific a handful of Navy pilots — all running out of sufficient fuel to return to their ships — turned the tide of war by sinking four Japanese carriers at Midway. The world we were born into was not a particularly nice one. The nuclear threat hung over our heads. People died, antibiotics were just being discovered – nature was a formidable foe. It was thought that people needed macho skills to survive.
However, both Truth and Light, which illuminate the way, are functions of receptivity. They are never produced by conquest or gentlemanly pedantry, nor are they fostered by the attitude of “who cares what you think”: they exist only as a function of a deeply feminine openness to innate awareness and essential life. To be in Truth and Light is to be able to be feminine in receptivity to the essential and powerfully masculine in acting it out. It is not a question of achieving perfection, but of becoming whole.
This is what we discovered very concretely about our lives at Esalen. Sharing this amazing experience was a dramatic adventure for me in my own self-understanding. As the realities of our lives emerged, the ideal fell definitively. What was left was the great preponderance of care for one another, our commonality and the whole of our struggle. In a word, compassion, the passion of being together in unity.
The implications of what we discovered among ourselves in Big Sur are legion, some of it reflected in the Yale dominated bulldog tyranny in our national and corporate policies. Much of it is currently under severe criticism by the feminist discourse and the growing critique from the far left of “Stupid White Men”.
And what about the cultural changes brought about in the Sixties? I do not believe the Bulldog Tyranny has been overcome by admitting women into Yale. Though I do not have the hands-on empirical evidence that I gained at Esalen, my intuitive sense is that the presence of women probably changes this syndrome, but creates another version of it. In extensive work with women in European and American culture, I find that in placing great store upon entering competition with men, most of “the woman of the Nineties” inevitably suffer greatly as they tend to lose their own sense of the deep feminine. Has Yale merely turned women into bulldogs that can compete with any man? As indicated by its labor problems, it does not seem that Yale itself has become more compassionate, listening to the needs of others, nourishing the species and the planet – these are the role of the feminine spirit. Dan still tyrannizes in his bulldog hold on the rule of the privileged.
Yale has set itself the task of becoming more global; an aspiration embodied in the new Center for the Study of Globalization and the ever-growing commitment to need blind admissions for international students from more diverse backgrounds. This development is timely and laudable, but completely external. The internal question remains: will Yale find a way to overcome the bulldog tyranny and bring its hidden ideal around to the deeper issue of fostering the global human being, indeed the planet itself?
Perhaps, in this planetary context, we are facing a new version of Providence: a universal responsibility to become rightly global, based on the fundamental ethical principle of doing no harm or contributing to the unhappiness of any being and the spiritual truth that we are all fundamentally one.
At the last reunion, I would sit each evening at dinner under the tent in the neo-gothic glory of Branford College courtyard. About midway through the second course, I would observe how the alcoholic din would begin to make it impossible to hear anything. Towards the end of desert i
t would rise to the point where conversation was hardly possible. Being not of the alcoholic persuasion, I soon left, wondering what is so repressed that it has to be pickled with spirits and released with such flushed fervor.
A further clue was there in the class discussion of the US in the 21st Century, led by present class-members of the policy-making elite. Of the 100 classmates who were there, about half were in favor of the present policy and half were not in favor. The discussion of the war and the projected role fell down to brilliant assessments around realpolitik — facts, figures, and strategy—that sort of thing. Never once were the spiritual or moral aspects of current unilateral policy approached.
Bulldog Bulldog, Bow-wow wow
The phallic command of facts and reasoned brilliance, without the tempering of true moral and spiritual empathy with the world environment is misguided. On the part of individuals, this makes for a contentious disposition of force towards the world. (If you don’t believe me, ask your wives) Acting this out on a global scale in the spirit of Handsome Dan, as our Yale educated leaders are now doing, could prove disastrous.
And there it is in our own sweet song: ”We are poor little lambs who have lost our way.”
THE BULLDOG TYRANNY