He began to see something even bigger. Everywhere you looked at this university there were people knocking "the frats" and the frat boys-the administration, which blamed them for the evils of alcohol, pot, cocaine, ecstasy. The dorks, GPA geeks, Goths, lesbos, homobos, bi-bos, S and Mbos, black-bos, Latinos, Indians-from India and the reservation-and other whining diversoids, who blamed them for racism, sexism, classism, whatever the fuck that was, chauvinism, anti-Semitism, fringe-rightism, homophobia. The only value ingrained at this institution was a weepy tolerance for losers.
Charlotte looked at him in a teacherly fashion. "You know what 'liberal arts' means?" Pause. Rumination. "No." "It's from Latin?" Charlotte was the very picture of kind patience. "In Latin, liber means free? It also means book, but that's just a coincidence, I think. Anyway, the Romans had slaves from all over the world, and some of the slaves were very bright, like the Greeks. The Romans would let the slaves get educated in all sorts of practical subjects, like math, like engineering so they could build things, like music so they could be entertainers? But only Roman citizens, the free people?-liber?-could take things like rhetoric and literature and history and theology and philosophy? Because they were the arts of persuasion-and they didn't want the slaves to learn how to present arguments that might inspire them to unite and rise up or something? So the 'liberal' arts are the arts of persuasion, and they didn't want anybody but free citizens knowing how to persuade people."
He had quite an interesting theory he was developing about how all tears, at bottom, have to do with protection. We cry at birth because we come naked into this world and we need protection. We cry for those we love who were desperate for protection and didn't get it in time. We cry with gratitude for those historic souls who have protected us at critical moments, with great risk to themselves. We cry for those who are voluntarily heading off into the valley of the shadow of death in order to protect us and who will need protection themselves as they do so. We cry for those who needed protection so very much and, with it or without it, have fought the good fight against great odds. All tears had to do with protection. No tears have to do with anything else.
Charlotte had never been in a building like the Dupont Center for Neuroscience before, although she had seen pictures of such places, all lean and clean and bare and spare and white and bright and sharp and hard, with glass walls.
Half a dozen couples were grinding on the dance floor. Specimens, lab animals they were, in a neurobiological environment that triggered certain stimuli, causing them to infuse their mucous membranes with alcohol and nicotine, so overwhelming was the urge to belong. For the first time in her two months at Dupont, Charlotte felt like her old self, independent, aloof-aloof from the customs other freshmen accepted as the natural order of things in college life and surrendered to without a peep. Why was it so important for these bright, rich kids-fourteen-ninety average SATs-to buy into what was primitive?