HARVARD POLITICAL REVIEW HARVARD’S POLITICAL APATHY What happened to activism at Harvard? by Christine Ann Hurd
VOLUME I, ISSUE 3
FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2012
DISPATCH LIBERALS IN NAME ONLY The Unspoken Conservatism of Harvard’s Meritocracy
FOR GOD, FOR COUNTRY AND FOR 10 THINGS HARVARD YOU NEED by John Kocsis
Harvard Should Embrace the Military by Samuel Coffin
TO KNOW ABOUT POLITICS AT HARVARD Everything we wish we knew about Harvard’s political landscape when we were pre-frosh by Harleen Gambhir
CAN HARVARD BUILD THE LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE? Harvard, Google, and the Future of Books by Eric Hendey
HARVARD POLITICAL REVIEW A Nonpartisan Journal of Politics Established 1969
EDITORIAL BOARD EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Jonathan Yip PUBLISHER: Andrew Seo MANAGING EDITOR: Neil Patel ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR: Alex Chen ONLINE EDITOR: Paul Schied COVERS EDITOR: Beatrice Walton CAMPUS EDITOR: Tom Gaudett CAMPUS ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Medha Gargeya INTERVIEWS EDITOR: Alpkaan Celik
CAN HARVARD BUILD A LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE? HARVARD, GOOGLE, AND THE FUTURE OF OPEN INFORMATION
U.S. SENIOR EDITOR: Caroline Cox U.S. ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Frank Mace U.S. ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Daniel Backman WORLD SENIOR EDITOR: Josh Lipson WORLD ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Arjun Mody WORLD ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Gram Slattery B&A SENIOR EDITOR: Christine Ann Hurd B&A ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Eli Kozminsky B&A ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Lena Bae HUMOR EDITOR: Sarah Siskind STAFF DIRECTOR: Zeenia Framroze BUSINESS MANAGER: Olivia Zhu ASSISTANT BUSINESS MANAGER: Naji Filali CIRCULATION MANAGER: Ross Svenson DESIGN EDITOR: Sam Finegold GRAPHICS EDITOR: Gina Kim MULTIMEDIA EDITOR: Eric Hendey WEBMASTER: Corinne Curcie WEBMASTER: Ben Shryock
SENIOR WRITERS Chris Danello, Kathy Lee, Paul Mathis, Max Novendstern, Jeremy Patashnik, Henry Shull, Simon Thompson, Jimmy Wu
Jay Alver, Oreoluwa Babarinsa, Elizabeth Bloom, Humza Syed Bokhari, Peter Bozzo, Gabby Bryant, Samuel Coffin, Catherine Cook, Tyler Cusick, Jacob Drucker, Farha Faisal, Mikhaila Fogel, Harleen Gambhir, Aditi Ghai, Raphael Haro, Kaiyang Huang, Nur Ibrahim, Elsa Kania, Adam Kern, Sandra Korn, Ha Le, Ben Lopez, Jimmy Meixiong, Peyton Miller, Laura Mirviss, Chris Oppermann, Lily Ostrer, Samir Patel, Caitlin Pendleton, Mason Pesek, Heather Pickerell, John Prince, Matt Shuham, Martin Steinbauer, Alastair Su, Lucas Swisher, Rajiv Tarigopula, Pooja Venkatraman, Ben Wilcox, Danny Wilson, Jenny Ye, Benjamin Zhou
Sam Finegold, Nick Gavin, Caitlin Pendleton, Danielle Suh
ADVISORY BOARD Jonathan Alter Richard L. Berke Carl Cannon E.J. Dionne, Jr. Walter Isaacson Whitney Patton Maralee Schwartz
Letters to the editor may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Hendey There’s been much said about the restructuring of the Harvard University Library system recently. Most campus debate and media coverage has focused on the administration’s plans to reduce the size of the library workforce. Of course, the university has a responsibility to reach a sustainable solution with its workers. However, we should not let these negotiations overshadow the benefits and possibilities of a modernized library system. With this transition process, Harvard has the opportunity to serve as an example of what a 21st century library should be. Indeed, this process could uniquely position Harvard to contribute to a much greater project: the creation of America’s first digital public library.
OUR LIBRARY TODAY Administrators have asserted that restructuring is a necessary for the library to keep pace with demand for essential new technologies, and that increased centralization is needed to make important strategic decisions. President Faust, in a February community message, also stressed the need for increased efficiency. ”Only 29 percent of Harvard’s total library budget goes to materials,” she wrote. “For our peers, the average is 41 percent.” This underlying message is that administrators want to reduce the size of the staff. The community has seen repeated protests by university library workers, organized to prevent mass layoffs. One clerical worker in Harvard’s library system, angered at these recent events, asked the question, “Who decides? Who made the decision that library staff should be cut and why? Where did the directive come from? What are the guiding principles for such decisions?” It is often difficult to discern what motives drive the decisions of administrators. The full extent of the Allston expansion project, for example, remains a mystery to me. But in the case of the library, we have privileged access to the thought process of a key decision-maker and his opinions on the future of
information in the 21st century. After all, he wrote it all out for us.
THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library, first joined the faculty as a professor of history. His chief academic interest was in an emerging field called the “history of the book.” His academic work examined the ways in which print works aided the dissemination of Enlightenment ideas and sparked the seeds of the French Revolution. Darnton’s thinking on the new information landscape is summarized in The Case for Books, a collection of essays. He views libraries as essential research tools, links to our collective past. Without them, Darnton believes, history is abandoned and future learning endeavors become bleak. However, he is also an optimist on digital technology’s potential as a conduit for intellectual work: In many societies, despite enormous inequalities, ordinary people not only read but have access to a huge quantity of reading matter through the Internet. I would not minimize the digital divide, which separates the computerized world from the rest, nor would I underestimate the importance of traditional books. But the future is digital. And I believe that if we can resolve the current challenges facing books in ways that favor ordinary citizens, we can create a digital republic of letters. Much of my book is devoted to this premise and can be summarized in two words: digitize and democratize. Darnton knows the power of information. His vision for intellectual exchange is the ideal of the “republic of letters,” and he hopes that an increase in access to information will inspire a new era of academic creativity. Digitization is a double-edged sword. Even Bill Gates admits that ”reading off the screen is still vastly inferior to reading off of paper.” However, Darnton makes a powerful case that technology can deepen the quality of intellectual discourse. If these are the guiding
impulses of Harvard’s library transition, and not merely an acquisitive drive for “efficiency,” we are likely to witness significant innovation. Indeed, the image of the ideal 21st century library may emerge over the next decade at Harvard.
THE GOOGLE PROBLEM Harvard can apply significant leverage on the way information is used in our country and has even done so quite recently. The lawsuit against Google Books, motivated by a justified fear of the monetization of the library, is a prime example. Harvard University, along with Stanford and Oxford, was one of the original partners in Google’s mass digitization project. The hope in 2004 was that Google would be able to provide open access to millions of documents for students and researchers. However, after relations with the Association of American Publishers turned sour, the project morphed into something quite different; an attempt to create the largest book business ever imagined. By 2008, a large-scale battle had developed in the courts. Groups representing writers and publishers reached a settlement with Google, whereby Google would charge a subscription fee for the service and share revenues with publishers. The open information project had been commercialized. As these legal issues unfolded, Harvard turned from Google’s partner to its vocal critic. Professors and officials claimed that the settlement contained “too many potential limitations” to be of use for the academic community, and questioned the Google’s monopoly power. Other universities soon followed in dropping the partnership; the proposed settlement ultimately collapsed in a 2011 court case.
OPEN INFORMATION Professor Darnton wrote in the New York Times that Google’s failure to reach a settlement was a “victory for the public good,” as it prevented one company from monopolizing the digitization of books. However, Google’s original dream of making all the world’s books available online was a noble one, and should not be abandoned. A public project of the same magnitude could drastically improve access to our shared intellectual heritage. It could make a vast array of resources available to anyone at any time, anywhere. Harvard researchers and developers have already taken the reins of this process through the non-profit Digital Public Library of America, which aims to have a functioning platform by this time next year. However, once development is complete, heavy institutional support and digitization will be
required to make the project a success. That’s an area where a modernized Harvard library system could make a tremendous difference. If our library’s restructuring process better positions us to assist in this effort, it will be good for the whole nation. By lending legitimacy to such a digitization project, Harvard has the opportunity to profoundly improve the state of open information today.
A UNIVERSITY WITHOUT A COUNTRY? Samuel Coffin ROTC practices bayonet skills at Harvard Stadium.
hen Harvard announced that Army ROTC would return to campus, joining its Navy counterpart, the campus seemed to give little notice to the news. Granted, even the protests against the Naval ROTC program’s return had been quite tepid, especially compared to the raucous building occupations and protests that occurred in 1969. Most of the argument against ROTC’s return revolved around the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. However, since that barrier was removed, the argument has shifted to claim that ROTC’s status as an academic department controlled by the military makes it unsuitable for a university such as Harvard. On the contrary, the presence of ROTC on campus is necessary to bridge the gap between academia and students, and the military and studies of military history. Most importantly, the notion that ROTC’s “pre-professional aspect” is a violation of the spirit of Harvard as a liberal arts institution is a far smaller issue than the consequences ROTC’s exclusion from Harvard. This argument that ROTC rudely violates the sacred halls of academia fits well within the general decline of military study in academia. Victor David Hansen, in The Father of Us All, notes that after the 1960s, the study of military history fell out of vogue after the general anti-war sentiment, to the great detriment of academia. Hansen, in an earlier blog post on the same subject, notes that the military historian Edward Coffman, after reviewing over a thousand prominent historians, only found 21 who expressed interest in military history. While the effects of war on cultures and political decisions are well-studied, these remain meaningless abstracts without a solid understanding of the battles which drive these consequences. ROTC’s pilot program of offering some courses on Harvard’s cam-
pus in the fall of 2012 bodes well for a greater exposure of Harvard students to military history. To address one concern, ROTC indeed contains much coursework of a “pre-professional” nature. ROTC, however, is simply a plan of coursework and not an entire concentration. Certainly, cadets and midshipmen gain instruction in military-specific courses. But they still benefit from the broader liberal arts curriculum at Harvard. If one follows the pre-professional argument against ROTC, wouldn’t engineering students also be violating the liberal arts spirit at Harvard by pursuing courses in a school of “Applied Sciences?” Harvard certainly should be a liberal arts university first; but, this status is hardly shaken by the presence of a very specific department which offers some courses of a “pre-professional” character. Furthermore, the question of whether this violates the “idea of Harvard as a liberal arts college” means little compared to the question of how well Harvard is living up to its duty to serve the United States of America. The greater problem is that these critics characterize the classes in the ROTC program as if they were just any “pre-professional” course selection, no different from pre-business or technical training. This sentiment underscores the great disconnect that so many at Harvard have with the military and it emphasizes the necessity of a ROTC department at Harvard. How far has Harvard fallen from its history that the military is considered just another job? Harvard may not have the catchy slogans of “For God, For Country, and For Yale” or “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.” Nonetheless, the concept of public service certainly carries great weight at Harvard. What should be recognized is that throughout Harvard’s history, “public service” has included fighting, and dying, for the United States. Har-
vard in fact was a pioneer in Army ROTC in 1916, hosting one of the first units established. Phillip A. Keith, author of Crimson Valor, notes that Harvard University has produced the most Medal of Honor recipients (17) of any civilian university in the United States. Any visitor to Sanders Theater has surely seen the grand nave of Memorial Hall, with its stone tablets of Harvard men who died to preserve the United States in its most vulnerable time. With due respect to our international students, and recognizing the importance of a global outlook, the fact that Harvard has served the American military must be especially noted. After all, a memorial at Harvard exists for its alumni who died for the Union, not the Confederacy. Remember that this university is in the United States, and the academic freedom of its liberal arts character has been secured by its alumni and all others who have served in the United States military. In light of the Crimson blood spilled to defend this university and this nation, calling ROTC instruction “trade
The effects of war remain meaningless abstracts without a solid understanding of the battles which drive these consequences.
school” coursework is an insulting understatement. If Harvard has reached the level of moral relativism to the point that it cannot recognize the military’s special role in society, it not only disgraces its long history of heroes, but shamefully fails to recognize such a vital aspect of public service. For the rest of the student body, the presence of ROTC on campus will provide vital exposure to the military. Already, half of Harvard’s incoming classes come from regions of the country that are greatly underrepresented in today’s military. Without ROTC, this disconnect leaves Harvard students ignorant of the military and reinforces the pernicious stereotype of the ivory tower. Even if one considers the presence of any “pre-professional program” a blow to Harvard’s liberal arts character, this is a necessary price to pay. Likewise, the argument against surrendering academic administration must be viewed in this light. During the original debate over ROTC in the 60s, some trying to split the difference argued that ROTC could exist on campus if Harvard had full control over it. Of course, to have an independent ROTC battalion would completely undermine the structure of the military. Thus, it is clear this proposal is made with the knowledge that the military would reject it. In conclusion, those who argue against ROTC’s “preprofessional” character may consider the return of ROTC as a dispensation to a certain group outside the rules of Harvard. However, in reality, it serves as recognition of the military’s unique place within American society and is a means of honoring Harvard’s long history of service to the United States military.
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT POLITICS AT HARVARD Harleen Gambhir
lright, prefrosh. You’ve picked up Dispatch, and in doing so have given away the fact that you’re politically inclined. At this point, it’s over. Upperclassmen from the Institute of Politics, the Harvard Political Review, the Dems, the Reps, the Independents and the issue campaigns, are all going to mob you to offer advice. Just smile, nod, and walk away. If they get insistent, hold this article up to their face. Because you are holding what is indisputably the most accurate guide for navigating political life at Harvard. Here’s what you need to know: 1. The Dems will be exciting, until they’re not. Don’t get me wrong, the Dems to great things. But only in election years. Everyone you know will join freshman year, and you will all bask in the glory of adding “Harvard College Democrats” to your resume. You’ll canvass and phonebank this fall, and have a great time. But soon enough a rapid rate of attrition takes hold; you realize that, except for your friends who have been elected to the board, you’re the only one going to meetings. 2. The Republicans inherently have more community. And there’s not much that you can do about that, on a largely liberal campus. My friend actually just finished a thesis examining this—apparently political groups that represent the minority on campus have much stronger group ties than others. What does that mean for you? If you’re a conservative, rejoice—you’re going to feel much more connected to those on campus who share your beliefs. But hey, if you’re a liberal, you can rejoice as well. Not only does Harvard assume Democratic leanings by default, it also allows for a much more nuanced, expansive discourse on the lefty spectrum. 3. Talk to Kennedy School students and professors, early and often. You go to a school where Niall Ferguson, Graham Allison, and Nicholas Burns all have office hours. Don’t know those names yet? No sweat, just take my advice and know that this is the place to be. 4. Always keep learning. Harvard students are smart. Like, really, really smart. You’re going to come in thinking you know everything possible about health care policy, and then some kid is going to roll into the Institute of Politics talking about the full Supreme Court briefing they just read about the Affordable Care Act. Or worse, they’re going to be asking you about your opinion on the Armenian genocide in 1915. What is that? Don’t panic and pull out your smartphone. Just smile, ask, and prepare yourself for an engaging conversation on Armenian politics. 5. Engage with those who don’t share your political views. This is important and at Harvard, this is more nuanced than just party lines. Don’t insulate yourself in a bubble of people who agree with you, at Harvard or anywhere else. And especially here, know this: you can’t win every argument. You used to in high school, we know. But that’s no longer the case, and you’ll be infinitely better for it. 6. Take a class on a political topic you don’t know about…and on a topic that you do. One of the best things I did my freshman spring was decide to take a seminar that I knew absolutely nothing about: the Middle East. I literally used my essay to tell my professor about how I became paralyzed at the sight of the
New York Times Middle East section, because I was so unfamiliar with all of the names and events. My professor was also the former deputy defense minister of Israel. He led us, week by week, through the national security histories of each country in the Middle East, going (serendipitously) along the same route as the Arab Spring, as it occurred. The class was challenging, eye-opening, and completely new. It was something every incoming freshman should take: a plunge into the (political) unknown. And once you’ve done that, take advantage of your ability to examine a topic you know you love, with a stellar faculty. This semester, I’m taking a junior seminar on democratization struggles in the Middle East. While doing an assignment one night, I found myself watching al-Jazeera (an Arab news station) at 3 AM. It may have been an ungodly hour, but it was made so much better because I was doing something that I’m genuinely excited about. 7. For genuine discourse, go to the publications. I’m not just saying this as a writer for the Harvard Political Review (though there’s some obvious bias lurking here). Out of all of the political spaces on campus, it is in publication meetings that you’ll find the people who care most passionately about the issues, and who want to stay up all night to talk about US policy in Afghanistan. These are the kind of kids you used to daydream about hanging out with, back when Ryan Thompson was asking your AP Gov teacher who Nancy Pelosi was. 8. Take your politics outside of the classroom. “Join one of Harvard’s many service programs, especially those in the Greater Boston area. You’ll see the real-life implications of what policy means, for better or for worse.” (celebrity tip from Julia Konrad ’13, Vice President of the Institute of Politics) The woman speaks the truth; it’s too easy to get stuck in the Harvard ivory politico-tower. Challenge yourself to do better than that. 9. Put things in perspective. Connect the local and the global constantly. At Harvard, you have the unique and constant privilege of seeing a direct connection between what happens on your campus and what happens in the world. Harvard-specific events are drawn on for national stories (see the LA Times’ mention of the Ec 10 walkout, or the Washington Post piece on Occupy Harvard). National stories, in turn, often involve those who have attended Harvard (See stories on well…anything). For you, lucky prefrosh, the division between your life and the golden “real world” of politics is no longer as great. Take advantage of your connection with the actual events of the world. Which brings me to my last tip… 10. Get started. Harvard is a stressful (but wonderful!) place. Between midterms, papers, ragers, and review sessions, it’ll be easy to forget about why you loved engaging with these issues in the first place. Heck, even those of us in political organizations sometimes forget, we’re so busy planning meetings. The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep discussing, keep participating. And there’s no reason to wait. You’re surrounded by 6000+ of America’s finest this weekend, along with another 800 or so of your prefrosh brethren. Ask your prefrosh roommate what he thinks about contraception funding, challenge that IOP senior to a debate on Middle East policy. Take a deep breath. Take it all in. And get going.
HARVARD: LIBERALS IN NAME ONLY
here are two universal truths everybody knows (or thinks they know) about Harvard. The first is that people who go here are “wicked smaht,” while the second, albeit not by much, is that people who go here are wicked liberal. Even individuals who know nothing about the Ivy League, New England, or college in general accept those beliefs as infallible. Pundits are wont to refer to the school as the bastion of liberalism, while conservatives hurl it as an insult to the left. My political psychology professor always talks about the lack of conservatives to compose an externally valid sample set among Harvard students. And my conservative grandmother did not want me to apply to Ivy League schools in fear that they would transform me into Cornel West. Harvard, in other words, is a laboratory for wide-eyed utopians with grand ideas but little understanding of the real world problems that face the conservative everyman. Little of this is inaccurate. Most Harvard students do self-identify as liberal—one needs simply to look at President Obama’s approval rating among undergraduates or the sizes of the Harvard Democrats versus the Harvard Republicans to grasp the dearth of True Blue Republicans on campus. In fact, the conservative coalition is so fragile that a so-called “Conservative Reception” relies on sponsorship from the campus’s True Love Revolution, an extracurricular organization devoted entirely to abstinence on campus. It is distinct from the pro-life group and has very little ostensible connection to Republican politics, yet, as a tangentially culturally conservative organization, it is considered politically conservative by default. While a Harvard Libertarian Forum apparently does exist on campus, this normal manifestation of young conservatism in college environments is minimal at best. Unlike elsewhere in the student world, supporting Ron Paul usually elicits a snicker
as opposed to a passionate cry of support. Thus the perception is true, Republicans are a rare species at Harvard. Yet, such a simple reading into the culture wars here is misplaced. While there may be a strong affiliation between the student body and the Democratic Party, this does not make residents of the Yard members of young adult liberalism. On the contrary, a cultural conservatism prevails. Long gone are the days of storming university buildings to protest the Vietnam War or apartheid in South Africa. This year’s attempt to reclaim that legacy amounted to the Occupy Harvard movement, a protest largely propagated by graduate students. The Occupy movement was met with widespread disdain and animosity by most undergraduates, a sector of society more concerned with getting to class—and, subsequently, the library—than revolutionizing class structure. While there is support for Elizabeth Warren, who claims to have founded the intellectual foundation for the Occupy movement, there was little support for the Occupy movement itself. Students were too preoccupied with defiling or scorning tents in the Yard and grumbling about the security precautions to determine how Warren’s academic work was reflected in the encampments. While students like the idea of the Harvard professor’s regulation of the financial industry, this appreciation does not preclude the aggressive recruitment process and search for Wall Street jobs. This is the paradox of liberalism at Harvard. Students are not inherently liberal but, rather, academic. They enjoy exploring advancements in social science that might counter conservative norms, but this search is more due to intellectual curiosity than an intrinsic desire for social upheaval. Individuals may be interested in liberal fodder like promoting diversity and, by extension, affirmative action, but this is not a result of social status sacrifice. Harvard is a hierarchy-enhancing
institution that contains many future leaders with high social dominance orientations. This school largely revolves around being the best in all regards, be they academic, extracurricular, or career-based (socioeconomic). These aspects are usually considered part of cultural conservatism, a culture that many conflate with making money and pursuing high rewards. Harvard students like to think, and modern media portrayal has removed this quality from most characterizations of the Republican Party. The recent prominence of party figures such as Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann lend credibility to Republican anti-intellectualism. Harvard undergraduates pride themselves on their mental faculties and avoid threats to that intellectualism. But, this does not make them the backbone of the Democratic Party. Students here are just as likely to be the next Mitt Romney as the next Barack Obama. One’s freshman roommate could either grow up to be Grover Norquist or Barney Frank. There are intellectuals and anti-intellectuals in the ranks of both main political parties. The dissatisfaction of the Harvard populace with conservatism stems from the recent framing of Republican policies as cultural obduracy. Conservatives at Harvard should not be discouraged. While it may be difficult to find a large percentage of peers with whom to work in Romney headquarters, it will not be too hard to find many classmates who share common political beliefs. This is the classical dichotomy here. Harvard is nominally liberal—very liberal, at that. But in real terms, Harvard is pretty conservative. Students like money and they like success. They place a great deal of focus on hard work and business connections. They understand the importance of preexisting institutions and do not attempt to alter that. Students here work within the current system; that is what conservatism means.
The Political Apathy of a Liberal by Default Christine Ann Hurd
elcome Pre-Frosh. Do you feel psychologically inadequate or weak? Then Harvard University might be the perfect place for you. If you wish, you can go weeks or even months without reading a national newspaper, engaging in a political discussion, or talking about anything but that one Crimson editorial entitled, “On Grinding.” Perhaps you have come to Harvard from a position as the head of your Sunnyville High School Young Democrats, Republicans, Policy Wonks, or Communists. If this is true for you, the Harvard College Democrats and the Harvard Republican Club are organizations that you might consider joining. For those of you that sympathize with the tattered remnants of Occupy, you should SLAM yourself into place with the far-left element of campus. And for those who love play-acting The West Wing, you will forevermore call the IOP (Institute of Politics) your home. Of course, you might also decide to write for a publication on campus in a political fashion. However, even those interested in the political goings-on of the world might find these organizations as a hesitant home. And so we come to the real question: What about the rest of us?
THE PERIOD OF ENNUI
(Then again, the drinking and voting ages were different in the good old days.)
I arrived at Harvard in August 2009, then a proud potential Neuroscience concentrator (pre-med, of course). However, even though I would eventually declare Government, I am more apathetic about political organizations now than I was then. My slackening fervor might have been caused by the increasingly besieged Obama administration, but also for the fact that liberals have it tough at Harvard. While in my home state of Texas I would be continually forced to hone my left-of-center arguments, at Harvard there is definitely a reduced need to defend things like public education or universal marriage rights. And, my political debate muscles have weakened with each passing discussion that concluded with, “Well I think we all agree on the unethical nature of corporate personhood.” When I would “dorm-storm” for the Harvard College Democrats in 2010, six out of 10 doors I knocked on had the near-identical reply of “I don’t care about politics,” sometimes qualified with “I guess I’m liberal, but I don’t really think about it.” Now, a year later, political conversation in my extended friend group has ground to a halt. “Did you know that Santorum suspended his campaign?” was the singular statement that prompted a reaction recently: sighs from those who were frustrated he had been a legitimate candidate for this long and groans from those that wanted to prolong the Republican brawl. As shocking as this may seem, Harvard has been in the position before.
When the argument didn’t stand in a similar fashion to “I don’t go to church because I’m too busy,” the general consensus from those bygone days, especially the snafu in 2007, lied in the supposition that Harvard students were more likely to use organizations such as the IOP and PBHA to create change. Teach for America’s hold amongst recent Harvard graduates is evertightening, and the disapproving reactions against Occupy Harvard (and the greater movement as a whole) give a hint as to student views on protest as an inferior form of political action to internal systemic change.
PAST VIEWS OF APATHY In a Crimson article published on Dec. 4, 2007 (one year before the Obama election), Alumni criticized Harvard students for “widespread apathy and political indifference.” But wait! Ten years earlier, in a Crimson editorial piece, the author mentioned a similar vein of criticism against Harvard’s lackluster political activist scene, making the argument that “We have a lifetime for political activism, of which many of us will take full advantage. We have only four years of liberal education (except for the few who study for a Ph.D.). With limited time, students must make a choice, and most students prudently choose their education over activism.” Three years before that, an anonymous student argued that “We are often so involved with our lives here on campus that these world-wide problems are relegated to a back burner.” At this rate, I feel that if I went back to the first editorial pages of The Crimson, I’d find a piece bemoaning the youth’s apathetic handling of Ulysses Grant’s re-election.
APATHY REDEFINED It is true that there are fewer and fewer incentives for college students to be involved in political campaigns. The Citizens United decision has rendered dollars in pockets more important than boots on the ground, a resource that young volunteers could provide en masse. With a shifting focus onto careers in finance, the sciences, and technology, the resources to be politically active dwindle as quantifiable proficiency is valued more than qualified rhetorical ability. However, discussion is not dead. Harvard still provides the avenues to engage in a more societal approach to political ideas. To paraphrase and bastardize Clausewitz, what is politics but an extension of war by other means. Politics at Harvard can be a war on sexism, racism, or inequalities in schooling. In that sense, they are unlike the meaningless fear-mongering of the War on Drugs, Terror, or Christmas, because the ultimate goal is to find the causes of harm, and to muster the intellectual capacity and courage to fight them wherever they may be. So prepare yourself for a deeper brand of politics, one that requires the flexibility to reference Katniss Everdeen’s lack of self-awareness or Christopher Hitchens’ Arguably, to cite a professor in one breath and an Atlantic column in the other, and to further dialogue between each other through a combination of the desire for truth and the freedom to find it completely on your own. No pre-packaged party-approved messages. No hopeless campaigns in Russia in winter. You can be apathetic about that, but be prepared to deal in politics, whether it seems to be clearly demarcated as such or not.