Coming Through The Rye
Roy K. Esaki
Innocence -- an imaginary i in the harsh world of reality -- is too often a rarity, to be found ephemerally in toddlers in sandboxes and quaint Austrian villages. And, perhaps, in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first-years. To comment on the innocence of freshmen may seem a bit patronizing, but it illustrates a lamentable mentality that equates innocence with naÏvetÉ, more than with than with a sense of enviable idealism.
A passage from The Little Prince, where the innocent protagonist laments a coldly impersonal world, seems appropriate to those who will grapple with the Institutional volksgeist: “Grown-ups like numbers,” the Little Prince sighs. “When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: ‘What does his voice sound like?’ ‘What games does he like best?’ ‘Does he collect butterflies?’ They ask: ‘How old is he?’ ‘How many brothers does he have?’ ‘How much does he weigh?’ ‘How much money does his father make?’ Only then do they think they know him.”
The younguns will too quickly acclimatize to numerical shop talk and will soon be greeting people with questions of majors and course numbers. The older fogies start comparing salaries and signing bonuses. That is the way things are done, and these are matters that must be considered; to expect otherwise is naÏve.
But in becoming aware of reality, people seem to inevitably lose their innocence. If innocence is the absence of guilt or wrongdoing, what transgressions have the Pragmatists committed? When idealism is overwhelmed, it is often replaced with cynicism and weariness, which end up actively hindering the pursuit of the original ideals. Worse yet, tacit, if not active, approval of the status quo sets in; consider the prototypical process by which the long-haired radicals of the 70s became a most conservative neo-Establishment. If the ignorance of the innocent is a misdemeanor, the support of an unideal status quo is a felony.
Of course, the whole consideration of innocence may be a bit dated, when taking into account innocence of a more childlike form; if there is no original sin, contemporary society corrupts soon thereafter. Unmentionables are not only mentioned but shouted across playgrounds, babies are dolled up by adolescent parents, and what used to be scandalous behavior for adults have become common rites of passage for junior high students. Kids rebuckling their knickerbockers below the knee, and memorizing jokes from Cap’n Billy’s Whiz-Bang. Some may consider this view of innocence as a pristine pleasantness to be old-fashioned prudishness; perhaps it is. But it is unfortunate that that time of unmuddied drawers is quickly disappearing, for it is possible that in growing up to quickly, one fails to do so at all.
Innocence is fleeting because it is a smiling child against a legion of battle-scarred soldiers. At every stage of life, there are the uninitiated neophytes and the hardened veterans. The latter have fortified positions, greatly outnumber the former, and offer promises of victory to potential defectors. To survive on the field, Innocence must don the fatigues of pragmatism and grow up. But the ideals remind us what the good fight is for; and when the war is over, we can return to our quaint villages to till our land and bake our bread, and the world will be a better place for the next generation.