A Stranger in a Strange Land

Recently for work I attended a Veteran Farmers’ Conference in Boone, NC. I have long since realized that Asheville is a strange land, but Boone is not far behind. I will say something for the veterans in attendance–you could tell they had been trained extensively in the practice of self-control. Me, not so much. The only thing stopping me, a non-veteran, from storming the stage and wresting away the microphone–to put all of us out of our misery–was the fear that I would lose a fight to a pacifist. 

In the speaker’s defense, I don’t think she had the self-awareness to realize how poorly the presentation was coming off. The veterans were too polite. They just sat there, eyes diverted, hoping it would end soon. Eventually, she did end her hour-long treatise, which was supposed to be about improving farmers’ mental health, a worthy topic, given suicide and depression among farmers, especially veteran farmers, are high compared to other vocations.

But the talk meandered from Australia where the young woman, who was a new age psychological practitioner of some sort, spent time learning from the Aborigines, to Europe where she took a pilgrimage to Copenhagen, to Connecticut where she spent years at Yale studying mental health treatment, focusing on eastern philosophies. She said we needed to “decolonize” our mental health system and avoid “toxic masculinity” and live in tune with our “chakras” and that most mental health ailments arise from imbalances in gut health, for which she had a medicinal herb that could help with every possible affliction. She talked about how she was a vegetarian for ten-years, until her body revolted, at which point she suddenly realized that eating meat “aligned spiritually” with her development as a human being. At the end, she asked if anyone had questions, and if they did, nobody dared ask one for fear of prolonging our suffering. For me, the only question left unasked was how she could afford to travel the world and then attend Yale.

But while she was speaking, I was also thinking about the dichotomy playing out. Here was a young woman, white, likely of considerable privilege and obviously highly educated, bemoaning the very privilege from which she has benefited. I suspect many of these veterans she was talking to had come from much humbler backgrounds and would have probably loved to trade places with her–at least in the sense that when they had traveled the world, they risked being shot at or blown up. I talked to one young man who had spent four years as an infantryman in the Army, much of it in Afghanistan. He didn’t get into details but said he still struggles with PTSD from an ambush on his unit. He said that he was one of the lucky ones. 

Lucky, I guess, is a relative term. I think we’re all lucky to live in the United States, where men and women sacrifice their own lives, limbs, and mental health, so the rest of us can tune up our chakras and work on our development as human beings. The young woman meant well and had the audience been a typical Boone hipster audience, the presentation likely would have been received with much adulation. I guess what has struck me so much on my sojourns in the Asheville and Boone areas is the irony of it all, that the hipsters who are so vociferously pushing diversity and inclusion are mostly a non-diverse group, white and privileged, and that a woman lamenting toxic masculinity to a room full of veterans is free to do so because many of her listeners had been trained to exhibit behaviors associated with toxic masculinity, not only for their own survival on the battlefield, but for our survival as a free and democratic nation.

photography of usa flag
Thank you, Veterans!