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My alumni magazine came in the mail the other day, and per usual the thing elevated my blood pressure. Here is a letter from a current graduating senior when asked the question, “What’s the greatest myth about your generation?”

… is that we are depoliticized.

What kind of a myth is that? I cannot remember reading a single OpEd or reading a single book or watching the news or getting any sense at all that we are “depoliticized.” Don’t Presidents win elections these days by arguing that he will encourage us to encounter issues in a depoliticized way? What the heck does this mean anyway? I looked it up, and the best definition for it is, “To remove the political aspect from; remove from political influence or control.” Which means, I guess, that we are becoming less reliant on government and the political process and less interested in public affairs? Does anyone believe this? Well, here is what we are told:

This is a myth because of the simple, yet scarcely realized, fact that depoliticization is always political.

Well, now I know what I was supposed to have learned in 4 years at the Fairest College. That everything is its opposite! And it is a fact too, I can look it up and it is widely understood and accepted. If you are not a sports fan you are being a sports fan. If you are not religious you are being religious! God knows what sorts of things I am involved in these days. She continues:

For whenever we close our eyes to injustice or claim to sit on the political sidelines, whenever we fail to speak truth to power or experience outrage over what is being done to “them,” whenever our moral currency is self-interest rather than selflessness, whenever we refuse to put feet to our words and instead step upon weak someones in pursuit of our own happiness rather than helping them in the direction of theirs, we are being political.

Oh dear. So is our author telling us to actually BE depoliticized? And would being depoliticized, which means being less reliant on government and interested in public affairs, mean that we “side” with the powerless? Can anyone possibly tell me what any of this means? Yeah, I get the whole “I am guilty of oppressing everyone” thing, but can you seriously make out what the meaning of the above is? The reason I ask is that folks like me are most certainly not silent in the face of what I view as injustice – the use of the poor as political pawns, the raiding of the public treasury by public sector unions and other interest groups, the utter corruption in the police system, the utter incompetence in the political system, the looting of the lower and middle class to extend privileges to powerful elites, the crushing of the poor in the public school system, the crushing of the work opportunities of the poor due to licensing restrictions, zoning restrictions and other policies aimed at helping them — I think I’d be accused of siding with the “powerful” against the powerless because I view the government and its agents as culpable and the only serious wielders of “power” in the United States.  Those who side with the elites, the intellectuals, the government are truly those who side with the powerful over the powerless. And as for the moral currency of self-immolation that is implied from above, I’ll have you think hard about a doctrine that raises the status of someone who forfeits their own well-being to others; I’ll have you think hard about condemning the emergent order of a free society that raises the living standards of all people; and I’ll have you think hard about who exactly this author is talking about and what obligations she actually is implying? The paragraph is utterly hollow.

We are siding with the powerful against the powerless. And while we may not raise our voices in support of those who perpetuate oppression, our silence says enough.

Does it? As I’ve said before, “one of my fine colleagues likes to say that sometimes what we call “beliefs” are actually nothing of the sort. Because by holding those “beliefs” you are doing so without any cost to yourself. For example, what is the significance of putting a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker on your car? Are you planning on starting a war with China? Do you send all of your savings to Tibetan freedom-fighters? If Tibet stays unfree are you at any risk? So saying that you want to free Tibet is something other than a belief, for it is a completely costless statement to you.” To push this further, suppose I dedicate my life to rectifying the injustices done to recent illegal Mexican immigrants. After all, I find the government’s restriction on immigration to be immoral and supporting the interests of the “powerful” and rich Americans against the poorer and less powerful immigrants. Would supporting the powerless immigrants, even though it is “against US law” to do so make me depolitical or good or what have you? Or how about this? Suppose the author agrees that I am morally upright for doing whatever I can in my power to make the life of new Mexican (illegal) immigrants here tolerable and better. But I spend every minute on this. This must come at the expense of me focusing on the really awful situation that still exists in Haiti. It must come at the expense of me focusing on the plight on the North Africans. It must come at the expense of me focusing on the needs of inner city children. Am I to be condemned for this? And if not, what is my silence on these issues saying? After all, our author tells me my silence says enough! Is all that is required for me to be a good person (and depoliticized I suppose) is to leave a Facebook status update that says, “I demand that the powerful stop oppressing the powerless,” and then be on my way. That seems an odd way to acquire moral currency. And I guess that just working hard, taking care of my children, being involved in the lives of my neighbors and family, paying more tax dollars than I could ever collect back in benefits, committing no crimes, spending a career in education, and so on … makes me self-interested and suppose, morally corrupt? That makes me someone who sides with the powerful? Great. That’s me.

4 Responses to “Talking About Your Generation”

  1. Mark Lipstein says:

    I am increasingly convinced that for most people in college, in my dealings with them, they have actually learned the opposite of well thought out positions, or have simply come to believe what they “feel” is right, or what is popular to believe. Some People, like this one, simply can’t understand the magnitude of the spontaneous order.

  2. It leaves me ambivalent. On the one hand, I chose Eastern Michigan University over the University of Michigan largely because my young peers at EMU were somewhat older, usually working, typically with spouses, children, or divorces to deal with. In short, at the (ahem) “urban school” the kids were worldly. Even if I disagreed with them, I had to admit that their opinions were grounded in experiences. At the U of M, the kids are clueless. That is the other side of my ambivalence. Why would we care what a college senior claims to “think” as, indeed, you demonstrate that these statements are not even “beliefs”? There is a lot of idiocy loose in the world.

    Regarding Mark Lipstein’s comment above, again, at the local community college – which was somewhat harder than EMU, actually – at one point in my “Ethics in Criminal Justice” class the instructor stopped all discussion. Although we had covered deontology, categorical imperative, relativism, absolutism, formalism, even egoism, six weeks into the term, she said, “You people are not arguing: you’re venting.” From the instructor’s point of view, the hard work of ethics was being ignored and people just expressed whatever feelings they had at the moment. She held the line. At EMU, the profs were happy to get almost anything in writing … as long as it was not conservative, libertarian or Objectivist, of course.

    I graduated with honors because I kept (most of) my opinions to myself. But in the final analysis, none of the professors who gave me those A grades would write letters of recommendation for graduate schools. So, I returned to EMU, where I had taken one grad class as an undegraduate.

    Just to say, in most places, like hardware stores, or sporting goods stores, or the library, or the unemployment office, you can pretty much switch the people from one side of the counter to the other and get the same result. So, too, with universities. Usually.

  3. Matt says:

    Great blog, but I think you’re missing the point on this one. She is basically saying that yes, her generation is not that interested in politics, but that does not mean they are depoliticized. And she is not saying we should be depoliticized, but rather that it’s not possible to be depoliticized. Whether we are active and vocal about political issues, as you are, or we are ignorant and silent about political issues, as I think she’s implying most of her generation is, we are being political. Because being silent about political (and social) issues is making a political statement.

  4. Rod says:

    I get it. One can defend any stance on politics without resorting to logic and facts by just saying, “Oh, I’m really de-politicized, so any ignorance on my part should be excused!”

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