January 30, 2006

A Disrespectful Eulogy for Dissent

This is probably going to convince my liberal friends that I'm growing increasingly right-wing, but a) that's incorrect and b) I feel I need to respond to this because I was told the best I could hope for in the next issue of the DFP is a letter to the editor. The following is a response to this, "A Disrespectful Eulogy for ROTC" by Nick Santos.

Nick’s argument proceeds from one basic premise: dissent is real leadership and is opposed to the sort of obedience and discipline demanded by the military, which is not leadership at all.

But dissent isn’t leadership in any real sense. It is, instead, leadership on an installment plan–I dissent now, you all are supposed to follow later, hopefully soon, though possibly never. Sometimes, that’s fantastic. And sometimes it’s chaotic and unproductive. Dissent is explicitly the avoidance of structured leadership, and sometimes structure is precisely what a situation demands.

And contrary to popular belief, dissent is not necessarily more courageous than “just following orders.” It’s absurd to say that an officer who assaults a fortified emplacement with his platoon is any less a leader or any less courageous simply because he did so as the result of an order. Are laws not orders? And are we courageous, gutsy leaders if we dissent from them when we think they’re wrong? I mean, I think marijuana has no business being criminalized, but I certainly wouldn’t call Dave Matthews a leader because he smokes more of it than the residents of any given block of Amsterdam. In addition, a dissenter may be putting his or her ass on the line, but quite often, he or she is talking out of it as well. And don't forget, "dissenter" is not an exclusively liberal category. We like to think of it as such, but what the hell do you call the Puritans, or John C. Calhoun or William Jennings Bryan or Barry Goldwater or, hell, Sam Alito?

Leadership is as much about discipline as it is about creative thought, and those things are not only entirely compatible, but are also often mutually supportive. In fact, innovation isn’t the antithesis of discipline; it’s the result.

Finally, if we’re going to attack campus programs that a) have a historical problem with homophobia and b) purport to be training leaders, but seem to be a little slack on that end, let’s be consistent and kill all the frats. After all, it certainly meets our criteria. Now I’d like to see the end of the Greek system as much as I’d like to be forced into a Student Assembly sponsored concert (O, Vanessa Carlton)–that is, not at all. But clearly, we are comfortable with at least some organizations whose leadership is occasionally in question and whose history has included some very homophobic actions and policies.


  1. I certainly wouldn’t call Dave Matthews a leader because he smokes more of it than the residents of any given block of Amsterdam.

    Don't they teach you English majors rudimentary logic? ( leadership => dissent ) is not equivalent to ( dissent => leadership ). It's equivalent to ( NOT dissent => NOT leadership ), which was my whole point.

    I think you mis-read the editorial, Seal. I am not in favor of kicking the military off campus. I just wish the military would stand up against a policy that wins votes for politicians, but hurts ROTC.

  2. I wasn't implying that you thought L→D was equivalent to D→L, if that's what you mean. And I certainly wasn't asserting that equality. I was saying dissidence does not always yield leadership, and this is an example of that. Matthews's dissidence does not make him a leader. That is a restatement of my main point. I think that flies.

    And eulogy is an awfully ominous sounding title for an advocation of backbone. And I said "kill" not "kick off." I was riffing to your so-called "eulogy."

    The point is, you're sounding a premature death knell on a program that doesn't fail in the ways you say it does. It does produce leaders, just not ones who do what you would like them to do. Talk about a failure of logic—your message boils down to "don't do what they say; do what I say (or rather what I wish), and call that leadership!"

  3. sam alito9:38 AM

    So much gumption!

  4. Anonymous11:59 AM

    andrew take a step back here and look and what you're doing. you're too busy with your internal monologue about the ontology of dissent, or some nonsense like that, to relate it to the context at hand, which is what matters--except for in your last paragraph, where you just set up this silly hypothetical, well, if we were perfectly moral human beings and we did want to protest discrimination, we should unequivocally destroy all institutions practicing discrimination, which you then say you don't want to do. your quaint disquisiton leads you to acknowledge and then defend the discrimination practiced by both the ROTC and the greek system. these are just useless intellectual exercises you're doing here. it's like spinning yourself around a baseball bat.

  5. What would be a constructive use of my time? Complaining about a policy I'll never get changed? Criticizing a bunch of honorable students for not being "leaderly" enough to lose their scholarships? How about practicing a chant of "hell no, I won't go," just so I'm on the right side of the dissenting line if one gets started? How about getting ready to blogshit about the SOTU? Is any of that truly practical activity?

    I'm just trying to make arguments here. I gave a host of reasons why I feel ROTC should not be treated as some organization producing mindless zombies. If those reasons fail to convince you, I'm sorry.

  6. Anonymous12:29 AM

    Andrew said: "But clearly, we are comfortable with at least some organizations whose leadership is occasionally in question and whose history has included some very homophobic actions and policies."

    "We" are not all "clearly" comfortable with such organizations. Some of "us" support getting rid of the Greek system.

    Also, it's a little odd to imply that someone who is against an institution that presently supports discrimination must of necessity be against organizations that have historically had such problems. There may be good reasons to oppose the latter, and the latter may indicate the former, but when you are intuition-mongering, you should use appropriate analogies. (Unless you are saying that the fraternities clearly support homophobia and discrimination now; if you're saying that, my bad)

    Tim W.

  7. Just a note: not all Greek organizations are homophobic.

    The co-ed Greek houses are probably the closest thing Dartmouth comes to social integration along many factors: race, class, and sexual oreintation. Differently more diverse than, say, econ classes.

  8. Anonymous1:24 AM

    John- I meant the greek system as it is, with predominantly single-sex houses; I was all in favor of the SLI's goal of making the system at least 'substantially coeducational'. My own mere personal preference was for a non-Greek co-ed house, though.

    Tim W.