February 28, 2006

Dartmouth? Still conservative

My friend Travis Mushett has a really great article in the most recent issue of the DFP. Travis takes the received wisdom that Dartmouth has become just another bastion of liberalism and calmly and cleverly refutes it.

Travis makes a convincing case that while we may jump to profess our liberalism, we recoil when it comes to practicing it. This is due, at least in part, to our solipsism-inducing environment, which overwhelms all but a few causes. "The only thing that can shake us out of our complacency is a threat to the existence of this complacency." Shades of Marx there, no doubt.

Citing the campus's reactions to SLI and the swim team, Travis demonstrates that when we do emerge from our torpor, we enter battle only to protect the nebulousness of tradition, an undoubtedly conservative impulse. Travis points out very rightly the response to Frat Free Friday as a perfect example of the gut-level response on-campus to anything that smacks of a challenge to the Greek system as we know it. We're a "very liberal" school, but don't bring any of those crazy feminist ideas 'round here, now. (On a related note, be sure to read this D op-ed on Dartmouth's failure to target men with sexual assault prevention messages.)

I don't know how Travis feels, but I think apathy on-campus is more detrimental than loosely-held conservative prejudices. Feminist-bashing looks normal only when feminists look abnormal, when they are among the few who really speak their mind or have a passionate belief. Against a background of apathy, of course committed liberals are going to look silly. The Review can ridicule a meeting about curing hunger only when it, and the rest of the campus, does nothing more activist-y than piss on Jim Wright's lawn occasionally. It is easy to make Dartmouth look like a fulfillment of Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" -- "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." How can we combat this perception? I think that is the question we must ask.

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